Learn more about the condition
Travelling is an exciting adventure – but there are few things to tick off your list before leaving, including your vaccinations. Here we explain everything from signs and symptoms to the vaccinations for hepatitis B.
What is hepatitis B and how do you contract it?
Hepatitis B is a virus that spreads through blood and body fluids causing an infection of the liver.
In the UK hepatitis B is fairly uncommon but those with a higher risk include people from or travelling to high risk countries, people who inject illicit drugs and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.
The virus is present in the blood and body fluid of someone with the infection. Here are the ways it can spread:
- From mother to child during pregnancy – particularly in countries where the infection is common
- Child to child in countries where the infection is common
- Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected
- Sharing drug equipment such as needles, spoons and filters
- Tattoos, body piercings, medical or dental treatment where equipment isn’t sterilised
- Sharing toothbrushes or razors with someone who’s infected
Signs and symptoms
Any symptoms will develop after being exposed to the virus and usually last for two to three months, however hepatitis B symptoms aren’t always experienced. It’s possible for some adults to fight off the virus without them knowing they've had it.
- Flu-like symptoms (tiredness, fever, general aches and pains)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowing of skin and eyes
Symptoms of acute hepatitis B in adults usually subside within one to three months. However, sometimes the virus can take longer to pass, lasting for six months or more and becomes classed as chronic hepatitis B.
If you’ve potentially been exposed to hepatitis B, you have any symptoms or you’re at a high risk of coming into contact with the virus, you should seek medical advice from your GP.
Treatment depends on how long you’ve had the infection. Emergency treatment can help stop people contracting the infection if they have been exposed to the virus for only a few days. Acute hepatitis B is when the infection has been present for a few weeks or months. Treatment may be needed to relieve the symptoms. Chronic hepatitis B is when the infection has been present for more than six months; medications may be offered to control the virus and reduce the risk of liver damage. Chronic hepatitis B needs to be regularly monitored and usually requires long-term or lifelong treatment.
Hepatitis B is best prevented via administration of the hepatitis B vaccine. There are other steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, including using condoms during sex.
If you're travelling and could be at risk of catching hepatitis B, a course of vaccinations should be considered to help protect you. Individuals at high risk include:
- Travellers to a high risk area (sub-Saharan Africa, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands)
- People adopting or fostering children from high risk areas
- People who inject drugs, or have a sexual partner who does
- Someone who frequently changes sexual partners
- Men who have sex with men
- Sex workers
- People working in areas with a risk of coming into contact with blood or body fluids (nurses, prison staff, doctors, dentists, laboratory staff)
- People receiving regular blood or blood products, and their carers
How long does hepatitis B vaccination last?
A course of vaccinations should provide lifelong protection.
For a free assessment, expert health advice and vaccinations, book an appointment online with Boots Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service. Ideally, this should be six to eight weeks before departure, but it’s never too late to seek advice if you're leaving sooner.