Hepatitis B virus is one of several viruses that can infect the liver. The presentation of the condition can vary from asymptomatic to a severe, life-threatening acute disorder. If hepatitis B becomes chronic, it can lead to severe disorders such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.1
Hepatitis B is more common when travelling in Asia, Africa and South America; however anyone who isn't vaccinated against hepatitis B could be at risk of contracting the virus. Hepatitis B is more infectious than many other viruses and can survive for at least seven days outside of the body.2
During the acute infection phase most people don't experience any symptoms. Those who do suffer symptoms can experience extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice, is also a symptom. More than 90% cent of healthy adults who contract hepatitis B will recover completely and be rid of the disease within the first year. However, within some people it can cause chronic liver infection that will later develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. In addition, those infected may become chronic carriers and pass the disease on to others.1
Hepatitis B is transmitted between people by direct contact with infected blood and various body fluids or via sexual contact. In some cases, hepatitis B is transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn child at birth.1
In Canada, most acute cases of hepatitis B (HB) occur in unimmunized household contacts of HB carriers and people 25 years of age and older who acquire infection through unprotected sexual activity, sharing injection drug equipment, or procedures with percutaneous exposure. A high proportion of HB carriers in Canada are immigrants from HB-endemic areas.2,3
A person with acute HB can become a chronic HB carrier and remain infectious. Chronic infection may lead to serious liver disease.
Infants born to infected mothers are at highest risk of becoming chronic HB carriers.2
Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. There are many different HB-containing vaccine schedules and dosages.2,4,5 Currently, all Canadian provinces provide a vaccine against HB as part of their infant immunization program.6
It is important to keep your and your children's vaccination records since duration of protection following a completed primary schedule is believed to be long lasting and no routine booster doses are currently recommended for individuals with a normal immune system.7
Blood tests are available to diagnose and monitor hepatitis B.2 Someone who may have come into contact with the virus should seek advice from a healthcare provider.