The hepatitis B virus can cause a short-term (acute) infection, which may or may not cause symptoms. Following an acute infection, a minority of infected adults develop a persistent infection called chronic hepatitis B. Many people with chronic hepatitis B remain well, but can still pass on the virus to others. Some develop serious liver problems. The virus is mainly passed on by sexual contact, sharing needles to inject drugs, and from mother to baby.
Hepatitis B is a virus which is carried in the bloodstream to the liver. It can then affect and damage your liver.
How common is hepatitis B?
The exact number of people infected is not known. In the UK about 1 in 550 people is thought to have chronic (persistent) hepatitis B infection. Worldwide, it is much more common and hepatitis B is the most common cause of hepatitis. For example, in parts of Asia and Africa more than 1 in 10 people have chronic hepatitis B infection.
How can you get hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a very infectious disease. Blood and other bodily fluids, such as semen, vaginal secretions and saliva, contain the virus in infected people. The main ways in which travellers become infected include the following: Having unprotected sex with an infected person. Even having oral sex can transmit hepatitis B.
(Note: many people with hepatitis B do not realise that they are infected and can pass on the virus during sex.)
From infected blood. You only need a tiny amount of infected blood to come into contact with a cut or wound on your body to allow the virus to enter your bloodstream, multiply and cause infection. For example: Sharing needles and/or any injecting equipment
There is a small risk of contracting the virus from sharing toothbrushes, razors, and other such items which may be contaminated with blood. The virus can actually live outside the body for more than one week.
From using equipment which is not sterile for dental work, medical procedures, tattooing, body piercing, etc.
A bite from an infected person, or if their blood spills on to a wound on your skin, or on to your eyes or into your mouth.
The virus is not passed on during normal social contact such as holding hands, hugging or sharing cups or crockery.
Who should get vaccinated against Hepatitis B?
Travellers who intend to stay for long periods in high prevalence areas.
Those considered to be at risk of hepatitis B through their planned activities, e.g. volunteers undertaking manual work, taking part in contact sports, involvement with casual sex.
Young children who may be in close contact with the local population and therefore at risk of cuts and scratches.
Travellers with pre-existing medical conditions, who may be at higher risk of requiring medical procedures abroad, e.g.pregnancy. (Pregnancy is not a contra-indication to immunisation.)