Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection that is transmitted via contaminated blood or via sexual contact. The main cause of infection in travellers is unprotected sex, but people can also become infected by getting a tattoo or piercings, by receiving acupuncture, by using contaminated razor blades, via dental treatments or blood transfusions.
The disease initially does not cause any symptoms, but sometimes they do appear over the course of several months:
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
These symptoms can persist for weeks or months.
Sometimes a chronic infection occurs, which can result in liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Hepatitis B occurs all over the world.
Always use condoms during sexual contact with a new partner. In some regions, condoms are hard to find or unreliable. This is why you should take condoms with you, particularly if you are travelling without a partner.
Do not get any piercings or tattoos whilst travelling and avoid any medical or paramedical treatments unless strictly necessary.
Visit a dentist before departure and postpone dental treatment during your travels if possible.
If possible, avoid injections, infusions and blood transfusions.
Avoid any unnecessary trips to a hospital. Be careful in traffic and during risky activities such as rafting, diving or bungee jumping.
The hepatitis B vaccine is part of the basic vaccination schedule in Belgium. In Flanders, most people born since 1987 will have been vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Vaccination is recommended for travel to Asia, Latin America or Africa if:
- You travel there regularly or spend long periods of time there.
- You travel without a long-term partner, due to the increased risk of unsafe sex.
- You might undergo medical or dental treatment there, or undertake other risky activities.
Two injections spaced one month apart, followed by a third injection after four to six months. A significant level of protection is usually achieved after the first two vaccinations.
A rapid vaccination plan can be implemented if there is not enough time and a high risk of exposure. This requires an extra dose: one dose at week 0, week 1 and week 3 and a fourth dose after twelve months.
90 to 95% of adults have sufficient antibodies after the third vaccination. This figure is even higher for children.
Adults are advised to have a blood test at one to three months after the complete series of vaccinations. If the antibody titre is 10 IU/mL or higher, then the person has life-long immunity, even if these antibodies can no longer be detected at a later stage. There is no need for further testing at a later stage.