About Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure and death. The hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent HBV infection.

Who is at Risk for Hepatitis B?

  • All children should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and should have completed the vaccine series by 6 through 18 months of age.
  • Children and adolescents through 18 years of age who did not receive the vaccine when they were younger should be vaccinated.
  • People who have sex with or live in the same house as a person with hepatitis B virus infection.
  • People who have sex with more than one partner.
  • People who seek care in a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV testing or treatment, or drug treatment.
  • Men who have sex with other men.
  • People who inject recreational drugs.
  • People who have a job that involves contact with human blood*.
  • People who are on the staff of, or a client in, an institution for the developmentally disabled*.
  • Hemodialysis patients or people with end-stage renal disease.
  • People who have HIV infection.
  • People who have chronic liver disease.
  • People who have diabetes and are under age 60.
  • People who live or travel for more than 6 months a year in countries where hepatitis B is common.

*See Healthcare Personnel Vaccination Recommendations at the Immunization Action Coalition website, www.immunize.org.

Possible Symptoms of Hepatitis B

  • Short, mild, flu-like illness
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and whites of eyes, darker yellow urine and pale feces)
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal pain

If experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately for emergency care.

Reference: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/ & http://www.avert.org/hepatitis-b-c.htm

What Vaccines are Available to Prevent Hepatitis B?

There are currently two vaccines available to prevent hepatitis B: Engerix-B® and Recombivax HB®. Both vaccines are given in a 3-dose series. Another vaccine, Twinrix®, combines hepatitis A and B vaccines and is also available in a 3-dose series.

What are the Possible Side Effects of Hepatitis B Vaccine?

With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own, but serious reactions are also possible.

Most people who get the hepatitis B vaccine do not have any problems with it.

Minor problems following hepatitis B vaccination include:

  • Soreness where the shot was given
  • Temperature of 99.9°F or higher

If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1 or 2 days.

Your doctor can tell you more about these reactions.

Other problems that could happen after this vaccine:

  • People sometimes faint after a medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by a fall. Tell your provider if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears.
  • Some people get shoulder pain that can be more severe and longer-lasting than the more routine soreness that can follow injections. This happens very rarely.
  • Any medication can cause a severe allergic reaction. Such reactions from a vaccine are very rare, estimated at about 1 in a million doses, and would happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.

As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a serious injury or death.

The safety of vaccines is always being monitored. For more information, visit the vaccine safety site.

This information is based on the hepatitis B VIS.

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