What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that infects the liver. It is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases affecting travellers and can cause either acute or chronic infection.
About 90-95 percent of adults with acute hepatitis B infection will clear the virus ontheir own within six months, and develop lifelong protection against it. Some people are unable to clear the virus, and develop chronic hepatitis B. Untreated chronic hepatitis B can later develop into serious health problems.
What is my risk?
Your risk depends on several factors:
Destination, length of stay, what you do when you are travelling and whether you have direct contact with blood or other body fluids
In certain destinations, your risk may be higher as some areas have higher number of people with chronic hepatitis B in the general population
Risk increases with certain activities, such as unprotected sex, sharing needles, tattooing and acupuncture
How is it transmitted?
Hepatitis B is highly infectious, and is spread from one person to another through exposure to infected blood and body fluids
(including semen and vaginal fluid). It can be spread through:
blood transfusions or organ transplantation in countries where blood or blood products have not been properly screened for hepatitis B and other viruses transmitted through blood
unprotected sex with an infected person
sharing needles or equipment for injecting drugs
unsterilized medical/dental equipment and shared/contaminated materials or equipment used for tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture, sharing toothbrushes or razors
What are the symptoms?
Fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and dark urine.
A small number of people will develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Some people develop chronic hepatitis B and most remain contagious for the rest of their lives. Chronic infection may lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and/or liver cancer. Most people with chronic hepatitis B are unaware of their infection.
Where is Hepatitis B a concern?
Hepatitis B occurs worldwide. Regions with higher numbers of people with chronic hepatitis B in the general population include parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, South and Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Source: © All Rights Reserved. Travel Health: Hepatitis B. Public Health Agency of Canada, 2014. Reproduced with permission from the Minister of Health, 2014.