It is spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids i.e. semen, saliva, tears, vaginal fluid or urine and blood.
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 monogamous relationship
- 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 areas
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.
Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional. Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.
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.