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Hepatitis B Vaccine

Hepatitis B is a viral infection; it is transmitted by exposure to infected blood or body fluids. This mostly occurs during sexual contact or as a result of blood-to-blood contact (for example from contaminated equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing or body piercing procedures, and sharing of intravenous needles). Mothers with the virus can also transmit the infection to their baby during childbirth.

Prevention

Travellers should avoid contact with blood or body fluids. This includes:

  • avoiding unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • avoiding tattooing, piercing, public shaving, and acupuncture (unless sterile equipment is used).
  • not sharing needles or other injection equipment.
  • following universal precautions if working in a medical/dental/high risk setting.

A sterile medical equipment kit may be helpful when travelling to resource poor areas.

Hepatits B vaccine

Vaccination could be considered for all travellers, and is recommended for those whose activities or medical history put them at increased risk including:

  • those who may have unprotected sex.
  • those who may be exposed to contaminated needles through injecting drug use.
  • those who may be exposed to blood or body fluids through their work (e.g. health workers).
  • those who may be exposed to contaminated needles as a result of having medical or dental care e.g. those with pre-existing medical conditions and those travelling for medical care abroad including those intending to receive renal dialysis overseas.
  • long-stay travellers.
  • those who are participating in contact sports.
  • families adopting children from this country.

The initial hepatitis B vaccination schedule involves 3 injections completed over differing time scales depending on how quickly they are required.

Public Health England advises that for travellers who have completed a hepatitis B vaccine course, a single booster dose of vaccine at five years is not required unless they are considered at continuing risk of infection. A blood test to check immunity (hepatitis B surface antibody levels) is only recommended for people with kidney failure or those at risk of occupational exposure particularly healthcare and laboratory workers.

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