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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B - Information for travellers

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. The disease may be last for a number of weeks and disappear or may be a lifelong, serious illness. Hepatitis B is different to other strains of Hepatitis, like the more common Hepatitis A, which you can read more about on that page.

Hepatitis B – what are the symptoms?

Children under the age of 5 generally do not display symptoms, but in adults and older children symptoms of acute Hepatitis B may include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the eyes)

How long do Hepatitis B symptoms take to appear?

Acute hepatitis B, which appears within 6 months of being exposed to the virus, will usually be followed by chronic, or lifelong, hepatitis B. This occurs in around 90% of cases with children, however the risk of acute Hepatitis B turning chronic reduces with age. The risk falls from 25-50% to around 6-10% when a child reaches the age of 5.

Symptoms can appear after about six weeks, or up to six months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus. The disease can take up to six months to clear, and those with chronic hepatitis B, following acute infection, may not display symptoms for up to 20-30 years. It is important to remember that even someone displaying no symptoms is still capable of passing on the virus to someone else.

How is Hepatitis B passed on?

Hepatitis B can be passed on through sexual contact, through sharing needles or exchanging bodily fluids with someone who has been infected.

Is Hepatitis B curable?

Acute hepatitis B may resolve itself within 6 months, before it becomes chronic or lifelong. In some cases no treatment is administered other than avoiding alcohol and other things known to damage the liver further. There are, however, treatments and drugs available, which should be discussed with a doctor for chronic hepatitis B.

There is no known magic cure for chronic hepatitis B, which can be associated with liver damage, but symptoms may disappear for extended periods.

How is Hepatitis B prevented?

The risk of contracting hepatitis B is reduced by around 90% when you are vaccinated. In Australia, most children are vaccinated between birth and 18 months of age, as the vaccination is a course of 3 or 4 shots, which a doctor must administer. In adults the shots are given over a 6-month period, so it is important to speak to a doctor well in advance of your travel plans about hepatitis B if possible. The medical community considers the hepatitis B vaccine safe and effective.

If you aren’t sure whether you have been fully immunized against hepatitis B with all 3 shots, you can be given a booster that will not cause any harm. You can also get the vaccine at the same time as you have the hepatitis A vaccine or another vaccine, after consulting the doctor about your travel plans and needs.

What are the side effects of the Hepatitis B vaccine?

Side effects for the hepatitis B vaccine are minimal, and about 1 in 4 may experience soreness in the area where the shot was administered.

Apart from slight soreness around the area of the shot, some can experience a high temperature, up to about 37-38 degrees Celsius (around 1 in 15 who have the vaccine).

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