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Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that is transmitted through blood, blood products, and other body fluids (such as semen). Travelers can become infected through unprotected sex with an infected person, injection drug use, and transfusions with unscreened blood.

Symptoms include a sudden fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Symptoms may last from several weeks to several months. Some people who get hepatitis B develop lifelong (chronic) hepatitis B. This can cause people to die early from liver disease and liver cancer.

Who is at risk?

Hepatitis B is most common in some countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.  However, it occurs in nearly every part of the world. The risk to most travelers is low, but travelers could become infected if they have sex with an infected person, receive a transfusion of unscreened blood, have medical or dental procedures, get tattoos or piercings or receive acupuncture with needles that are not sterile.  

What can travelers do to prevent disease?

Get hepatitis B vaccine:

  • The vaccine is recommended for extended stay travelers, people with chronic conditions, older people, healthcare workers, and people who participate in high-risk activities (such as injection drug use and unprotected sex). Other travelers may consider the vaccine, especially because some countries may not screen their blood supply, and travelers could become infected by a blood transfusion.
    • This vaccine is a 3 dose vaccine. The second vaccine is given 1 month after the first dose and the third dose is given 6 months after the first dose.
      • Talk to your provider about accelerated dosing and the combination vaccine with hepatitis A.
    • Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.
    • The vaccine is over 90% effective, and has been considered a routine childhood vaccine since 1995.

Protect yourself:

  • Use latex condoms correctly.
  • Do not inject drugs.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
  • Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
    • If you do get tattoos or piercings, make sure equipment is sterile.
  • If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.

Consider medical evacuation insurance:

  • An injury or illness that requires invasive medical or dental treatment (e.g., an injection, IV drip, transfusion, stitches) could result in hepatitis B infection if the blood supply is not properly screened.
  • Medical evacuation insurance may cover the cost to transfer you to the nearest destination where you can get complete care. Some policies may cover your return to your home country.

Page reviewed on: Mar 09, 2017

Page reviewed by: Jessie L. Leyse, MD

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