Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver that can cause flu-like symptoms, liver failure, and can be fatal. It is spread through contact with infected blood, or body fluids – for example, through sexual intercourse or sharing needles.

High risk areas: hepatitis B occurs worldwide but, in particular, it may be found in Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia, and many of the South Pacific islands.

The risk of hepatitis B for tourists is usually considered to be low. However, some activities will increase your risk – for example, having unprotected sex, injections, or body piercings.

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for travellers in high risk areas who:

  • may behave in an unsafe way – for example, having unprotected sex, or injecting drugs, working as a relief worker, or working in a medical setting,
  • may stay in a high or medium risk area for a long period of time, or
  • may require medical care while in a high or medium risk area.

The vaccine

Several different vaccines are available for hepatitis B. Most require a course of three doses in order to provide protection. The second dose is usually given one month after the first dose, and the third dose is then given five months later.

Once you have completed the vaccination course, and a blood test has confirmed that you are immune, you will be protected against hepatitis B for life. Healthcare workers are advised to have a booster dose after five years.

A combined hepatitis A and B vaccine is also available. The hepatitis B vaccine can be given from birth.