Hepatitis B is the third most common infection contracted in travellers. It is a disease that effects the liver, and is 100 times more infectious than HIV so preventative measures really should be taken. It is spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids.
After contracting the disease, many people won't have any symptoms but those who do will have a general feeling of being unwell and flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle aches etc. At this stage many recover from the disease, however some go on to develop abdominal pain and jaundice which can last for up to eight weeks. At this point of infection, a person will either produce antibodies to the virus and be able to fight the illness, or go into full liver failure, which can result in death.Who is at risk of Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a worldwide issue, and can also be found within the UK. Some areas have a higher contraction rate than others, such as Tropical Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, China and the Pacific basin.
However, some travellers will fall into a high-risk group, who are more likely to contract the virus whether they are in a lower risk region or not. These groups include but is not restricted to:
- Those in a sexual relationship with more than one person.
- Drug users who regularly or occasionally use needles as a form of paraphernalia.
- Those in a same-sex intimate relationship.
- Those who are planning a tattoo abroad, or have had tattoos from less reputable places.
- Those planning to undergo medical or dental treatment abroad.
- Those intending on a prolonged stay in at-risk zones.
- Those who suffer with chronic medical conditions.
Vaccination is available for both those whose work could place them in danger, or for those who are travelling to an area that us considered a risk of transmission. All travellers whose lifestyle puts them at risk should consider vaccination. The jab is normally free to those whose work puts them in danger, for example health care workers, but there is a small fee for those who are voluntarily seeking the injection. Personal prevention is also essential, such as making sure all sexual activity is protected, and by avoiding tattoos, dental treatment or other practices which involves puncturing the skin within a foreign country or at a place that is not reputable.