What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is the third most common infection in
travellers. It is a disease, which affects the liver. It is 100
times more infectious than HIV and can survive in dried blood for
up to seven days. It is spread from person to person through contact
with bodily fluids i.e. semen, saliva, tears, vaginal fluid or urine
Symptoms of the diseases range from an asymptomatic
response, to flu like symptoms and a general feeling of unwell.
At this stage many recover from the disease, however some go on
to develop abdominal pain, jaundice which can last up to eight weeks.
At this stage a person will either produce antibodies to the virus
or go into full liver failure, which can result in death.
Who is at risk of Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is found worldwide. Areas of high endemicity
include Tropical Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Parts of
China and the Pacific Basin, where a carrier rate is estimated to
be 8% of the population.
However, those in high-risk groups are of a greater
risk wherever they are in the world. High-risk groups in travellers
include those who are health workers and haemophiliacs.
Also those exercising high risk behaviour while
travelling should equally consider vaccination:
- those practicing sexual activity outside of a
- injecting drug users
- practising homosexuals
- those engaging in contact sports
- those planning to undergo medical or dental treatment
abroad - Health Tourism
- prolonged stay (more than 3 months) in risk areas
those adopting children from high risk areas
- chronic medical conditions
- those visiting family and friends in high risk
How can I prevent Hepatitis B?
Vaccination is available for those at risk and should
be discussed with a health care provider. Vaccination is available
free for those at high risk, such as health care workers. For routine
travel to high-risk areas a cost is usually incurred and prices
will vary from place to place. All travellers whose lifestyle puts
them at risk should consider vaccination.
Personal prevention is also essential, such as using
a condom when engaging in sexual activity, avoiding tattoos, dental
treatment or other practices which involves puncturing the skin.
Backpackers and those working long term overseas should consider
carrying with them a medical kit.