What You Need To Know About… The Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis B Vaccine
What is hepatitis B?
Each year in the U.S., over 300,000 people get hepatitis B -- a serious liver disease caused by a virus. Many people who have hepatitis B experience no symptoms. Others have symptoms that include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, and yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).
When infection continues beyond a six-month period, it is called "chronic hepatitis." Chronic hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and cancer of the liver. People with chronic hepatitis are also able to pass the disease along to others throughout their lives.
The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and body fluids (semen, vaginal fluid, and saliva) of an infected person. It can be spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or through sharing injection drug needles. In addition, an infected mother can pass the virus to her fetus, or to her baby during breast feeding.
What is the hepatitis B vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the disease. The shot is given in a three-dose series. Once you get the first shot, you'll get the second one in 1-2 months and the third in six months. The timing of the shots is flexible, and delays in receiving injections does not mean that the process has to be started over. You can just continue with the next injection in the series.
Which adults should get the hepatitis B vaccine?
Teens and young adults under age 30 who were not immunized as children should get the hepatitis B vaccine. If you fall into any of the high-risk categories listed below, you should also talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis B vaccine:
- Men who have sex with men;
- Injection drug users or sexual partners of injection drug users;
- People who have had sexual activity with multiple partners in the past six months;
- People who have recently had another sexually transmitted disease;
- Travelers to areas where there is a high rate of hepatitis B (e.g. Alaska, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Asia, the Amazon region of South America);
- People who receive certain blood products (consult your doctor for more information);
- People in health-related jobs with frequent exposure to blood or blood products.
The hepatitis B vaccine is safe. However, some people experience minor side effects like redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. Headache and fatigue are less common. If these side effects do occur, they last only for a short time. Consult your doctor for more information.