What is Hepatitis B?
The virus is endemic in many developing countries around the world. For the Traveller, The main sources of exposure to Hepatitis B are sex and being exposed a contaminated needle.
When is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Recommended?
Hepatitis B Vaccination has been part of the routine Australian childhood immunisation programme in infants since around 2000. There was also a catchup program for older children from around 1997.
What this means is that most children and young adults have been vaccinated against Hepatitis B.
When doubt remains as to whether there has been previous Hepatitis B Vaccination then a blood test can be arranged.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for travel in medium to high-risk countries in people who have not been previously immunised against Hepatitis B and:
- are staying in the country long term, or
- are frequent short term travellers to countries at-risk, or
- have Sexual Contact with locals, or
- are engaged in other activities likely to increase risk of exposure to the Hep B Virus.
Let’s summarise this in a simple way. Young Australians will generally have previously been immunised against Hepatitis B. Otherwise, adults need to consider immunisation when they are travelling frequently, or for a longer time, to countries-at-risk.
What is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Schedule?
Hepatitis B vaccine in adults is ideally given in the following way:
- First Vaccine, then
- Second Vaccine after 28 days, then
- Third & Final Vaccine after 6 months
Most people come to the travel clinic with much less time available than six months. The following schedule allows immunity within a few weeks – but requires an extra dose at 12 months. This “accelerated” schedule is as follows:
- First Vaccine
- Second Vaccine after 7 days
- Third Vaccine after 21 days
- Fourth (Booster) Vaccine after 12 months
In Summary, most people coming to the travel clinic requiring Hepatitis B will need the accelerated 4 vaccine schedule which allows immunity to develop within a few weeks. However, the degree of immunity is not as great as the standard 3 vaccine schedule over 6 months.
A final option is to have the 3-vaccine schedule over 4 months rather than 6 months.
How long does a Hepatitis B vaccine last?
Following a full course of Hepatitis B Vaccine, the vaccine for travel purposes is regarded as life-long for healthy people.
What are the pros and cons of Hepatitis B Vaccination?
- The Hepatitis B vaccine is relatively cheap, very safe, and very effective. It is part of the routine Australian childhood immunisation programme.
- Hepatitis B is a common cause of chronic viral hepatitis with important long term health issues.
- Chronic Hepatitis B infection accounts for around a quarter of Cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Side effects of the vaccine might be a local reaction at the injection site. Fever occurs in 2-3%. Other adverse effects reported infrequently are nausea, dizziness, tiredness, achy joints and achyy muscles.