Hepatitis B is a serious viral illness transmitted through blood, blood products, contaminated medical instruments and unprotected sex. This viral illness is quite a bit more serious than it’s cousin, Hepatitis A, so many people shrug it off and neglect vaccination, only to be sorry later on. Hepatitis B can lead to chronic or lifelong illness, which may cause people to die earlier in their lives from liver disease or liver cancer. As the liver is an important portion of your body, it’s best to protect it from any danger and get vaccinated if you believe you are at risk.
This illness is most commonly found in portions of South America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Travellers to these areas are at risk if getting medical procedures, or having unprotected sex. This means that is you are an adventure traveller, missionary, Peace Corps Volunteer or member of the military, or are staying for longer in areas where Hepatitis B is common, you need to ensure you are protected. The risks to casual travellers are low, but should be thought about if you may get any medical procedures, tattoos or sudden treatments in affected areas.
Hepatitis B is not an illness that can merely be shrugged off, and symptoms are highly unpleasant and can lead to serious consequences. Symptoms of this illness include a sudden fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Certain people may develop chronic, lifelong Hepatitis B, causing early death from liver disease and cancer.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is 90% effective at preventing the illness, and has been considered a routine vaccination since the mid 90’s. This vaccine is given in 3 doses, over the course of 6 months. However, for previously unvaccinated people an accelerated version is available in conjunction with the Hepatitis A vaccine.
For most people, Hepatitis B vaccine can last for a good 20 years; for some people it can also provide with a lifetime immunity.
Other ways to protect yourself when travelling are: using latex condoms when having sex, limiting alcohol consumption while travelling, not injecting drugs, not sharing needles or devices that break the skin, including tattoo needles, needles for acupuncture, or piercings. If you receive medical care while travelling, take time to ensure that equipment is disinfected and sanitized.
Another consideration you may want to take into mind is investing in Medical Insurance or evacuation insurance, as medical evacuation or treatment of Hepatitis B can be costly and might require you to return home quickly to avoid paying fees.
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Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Hepatitis B general information. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/hepatitis-b
Government of Canada (2017), Travel and health safety information. Retrieved from: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/diseases/hepatitis-b
World Health Organization (2012). Hepatitis B, countries or areas at risk. Retrieved from: http://gamapserver.who.int/mapLibrary/Files/Maps/Global_HepB_ITHRiskMap.png?ua=1