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Everything You Need to Know About Hepatitis B as a Traveler

hepatitis b information for travelers

While not as prevalent as hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a disease which can easily be encountered on your travels. This article will discuss the dangers of hepatitis B and the tips and methods to ensure that a traveler stays free of this disease on their travels.

Hepatitis is a disease which causes inflammation of the liver. Many people are aware of hepatitis but don’t know much about it. Hepatitis can be contracted many different ways, such as sexual activity, eating undercooked food, and drinking bad water among others. The dangers of hepatitis are real and very relevant to a traveler. Being aware of the different types of the disease, how you can prevent contracting them, and what to do if you do contract hepatitis are important. Below we will be talking about hepatitis B and the necessary information to keep you safe while out on the road. Follow my other posts on Hepatitis A, Hepatitis C, and my comparison of Hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus and leads to massive inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is one of the most prevalent diseases that are encountered by travelers. It is highly contagious but is vaccine preventable.

Hepatitis B Causes and Transmission Risks

Risk of transmission is greatest with blood-to-blood contact, most specifically associated with unprotected sexual activity. This is true for both heterosexual and homosexual activity. Transmission can also occur via semen and vaginal fluid. Hepatitis B is also spread easily through the sharing of needles, tattooing performed with unsterilized needles and acupuncture needles. Sterilized objects are a must in all places, as there have been cases of travelers contracting hepatitis B in health and dental centers because of the use of unsterilized equipment. The risk is greater for travelers intending on “roughing it” and who have extended stays in areas where the disease is endemic (very prevalent). The danger is still high for travelers on short trips as well as those who plan to stay in luxury hotels. Caution and safety are necessary for every level and type of traveler in areas where hepatitis B is prevalent.

Hepatitis B Symptoms

Around 30% of people who contract hepatitis B have no noticeable symptoms. Many others have only mild symptoms. These symptoms can take as long as two to six months before appearing. Symptoms include:

  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Dark Colored Urine
  • Pale Colored Stool

About 90% to 95% of adults who come down with the infection are able to fight off the virus and beat their infection in a matter of weeks or months. Those 5% to 10% who aren’t able to quickly beat the infection come down with chronic hepatitis B. This is hepatitis B that lasts for more than six months. About 2/3 of people with chronic hepatitis B are carriers, meaning they do not have any real symptoms but their body was unable to beat the infection and thus are a risk to transmit the infection to others. The other 1/3 with chronic hepatitis B often end up with cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and death.

Prevention Tips for Travelers

When it comes to preventing yourself from contracting hepatitis B the best steps are reducing your risk, traveling smart, and getting vaccinated. The vaccine is very safe and consists of three shots given over a six month period of time. This is important as the vaccine is significantly more effective after the third shot than after the first or second. It is important that if you are planning a trip to an area where hepatitis B is endemic that you plan ahead to begin your vaccination cycle. Effectiveness of the vaccine is around 95% for people under the age of 40, around 90% for the ages of 40-60, and around 65-75% for people over the age of 60. Once the vaccine cycle is completed, the effectiveness should last at least 20 years, with many people gaining life long immunity. If you are to be consistently exposed to the virus, a booster shot after 5 years is recommended.

Besides getting the vaccine, it is also very important that you are always traveling safely. Being smart with your choices on food, water and sexual practices is a key to staying safe and disease free on the road. Here are a few tips:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water as often as you can, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Hand sanitizers are useful but do not replace the quality of washing hands in soap and hot water.
  • Don’t eat peeled fruit or vegetables unless they are cooked. A general rule of thumb is always to peel your own vegetables and fruits. It is possible that they could have been washed in infected water which could lead to transmission.
  • Use only purified/bottled water, with carbonated drinks preferred. Feel free to imbibe in your favorite fizzy beverage and feel comfortable that you will stay infection free.
  • Take caution with dairy products and street food. It looks good, smells good and probably tastes good, but what that means for your body afterwards is a question mark.
  • Do not share any items that may have come in contact with blood. This includes: razors, toothbrushes, fingernail clippers, needles.
  • Make sure to practice safe sex at all times. Hepatitis is easily passed through blood-to-blood contact.

These tips will help you stay safe and happy on your travels abroad. Stay safe, don’t take any unnecessary risks with your health and be smart and you will have an amazing time on your trip. Enjoy the wonderful sites that await you. Safe travels.

Photo credit flickr user Mel B.

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