Hepatitis B vaccine
Hepatitis B is a serious viral illness that can cause inflammation of the liver, chronic liver failure and liver cancer. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available that can prevent people being infected with the hepatitis B virus.
The National Immunisation Program Schedule recommends hepatitis B vaccination for all children at birth, followed by 3 doses at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. Catch-up vaccination at 10 to 13 years is recommended for children who have missed being vaccinated.
For adults and children who have not been vaccinated as part of the schedule, a simple course of 3 injections, the second and third given one and 6 months after the first, will give long-lasting protection. The vaccine is readily available and relatively inexpensive.
Vaccination is recommended for adults who are at increased risk of hepatitis B infection and those at increased risk of severe disease. Adults at increased risk include:
- people living with, or in prolonged close contact with, a person with hepatitis B;
- sexual contacts of those with hepatitis B;
- migrants from areas where there are high rates of hepatitis B infection (including East and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands);
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
- people with kidney failure who need dialysis;
- people with HIV infection or other problems with their immune system;
- people with liver disease and/or hepatitis C;
- people who inject drugs;
- residents and staff of facilities for people with developmental disabilities;
- inmates and staff of correctional facilities;
- people working in certain occupations, such as healthcare and emergency services workers; and
- travellers to countries where there are high rates of hepatitis B infection.
If you are unsure about whether you have been vaccinated or previously exposed to hepatitis B, ask your doctor about having a blood test to check for antibodies to the hepatitis virus.
Risks and side effects
The most common side effects associated with hepatitis B vaccination include soreness around the injection area and fever. The birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine is very well tolerated and is not associated with an increased risk of fever. Severe allergic reactions in adults have been very rarely reported.
2. Australian Government Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule (from July 2013). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/nips-ctn (accessed Jul 2014).
3. Immunise Australia Program. Hepatitis B (updated 10 Feb 2014). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-hepb (accessed Jul 2014).