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Hepatitis B


Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver. It is caused by a virus that is spread through direct contact with infected blood and from having sex with an infected person.

Recommendations for travellers

You should arrange a travel health consultation with a travel healthcare professional, ideally 6 to 8 weeks before your trip.  They will be able to give you advice on how to protect yourself against hepatitis B, and the hepatitis B vaccine.

Even if you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B, you should still take preventative steps to reduce your risk of exposure. 

If you think you may have been exposed to Hepatitis B virus whilst travelling then you should see your GP as soon as possible.


All children born in the UK after 1 August 2017 should receive hepatitis B vaccine as part of the routine UK vaccination schedule. Anyone born before 1 August 2017 is unlikely to have been routinely given hepatitis B vaccine, so may be at risk of exposure through travel.

You should consider being vaccinated against hepatitis B if:

  • you will be visiting countries where the hepatitis B virus is common
  • your planned activities mean you might be at risk of exposure to the virus

There are several brands of vaccine currently available in the UK to protect against hepatitis B.  The healthcare professional that recommends the vaccine will be able to tell you which one is recommended for you.  View the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for:

Hepatitis B vaccine is also available in a preparation that combines it with the hepatitis A vaccine for convenience. View the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for:

Overview of Disease

Hepatitis B infection is caused by exposure to the Hepatitis B virus which is found in blood and bodily fluids. The virus is most commonly spread during travel through sex, contaminated medical equipment, blood transfusions or needle sharing (including tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture).  Worldwide the most common mode of transmission is from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

The hepatitis B virus is highly infectious and can live outside the body for 7 days and still remain infectious.

Hepatitis B is a public health problem worldwide. Areas where there is a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B include Africa, the Western Pacific, South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Illness

Infection with hepatitis B causes an acute infection. Some people get no symptoms, but for  others a gradual onset may occur, and become severe leading to hospitalisation. Acute liver failure can occur.

Symptoms of hepatitis B might include:

  • mild temperature (fever) and/or flu like symptoms
  • stomach upset
  • feeling or being sick (nausea/vomiting)
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach (abdominal) pain
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Symptoms can last for weeks to months. The infection can completely resolve and the person is then immune to catching the infection again. Or the infection may become chronic. Chronic hepatitis B infection is lifelong and for some will result in progressive liver disease and a higher risk of liver cancer.


There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B.  

People who develop chronic infection may require treatment with medication. Treatment does not cure the infection but controls it so that the risk of liver disease and liver cancer is reduced.

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