What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious, serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person, including contact with objects that could have blood or body fluids on them such as toothbrushes and razors. The hepatitis B virus can cause:
Acute (short-term) illness, the symptoms of which are flu-like. Most adults who get hepatitis B have this acute form of hepatitis B, and then get better.
Chronic (long-term) infection which can be very serious, and often leads to liver damage, liver cancer, or death. Babies and young children infected with hepatitis B are more likely to get this chronic form of the disease.
What is the hepatitis B vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. It is a series of 3 or 4 shots usually given over a 6-to-12 month period. It is given by an injection into the arm muscle of adolescents and adults and thigh muscle of infants and young children. Estimates of long-term protection for those getting the full vaccination (3 or 4 doses) suggest that protection from hepatitis B could last for up to 20 or 30 years and possibly for life.
Who should get the hepatitis B vaccine?
- All children should get their first dose at birth, and should have completed their vaccine series by 6-18 months of age.
- Children and adolescents through 18 years of age who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should be vaccinated.
- Adults at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B, as well as any person who desires protection from hepatitis B.
- Persons at increased risk are as follows:
- Those whose sex partner is infected with hepatitis B
- Men who have sex with men
- People who inject street drugs
- People with more than one sex partner
- People with chronic liver or kidney disease, or HIV infection
- People with jobs that expose them to human blood
- Household contacts of people infected with hepatitis B
- Residents and staff in institutions for the developmentally disabled
- Kidney dialysis patients
- People who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common
Who should not get the hepatitis B vaccine?
- Anyone with a life-threatening allergy to baker's yeast, or to any component of the vaccine should not get the hepatitis B vaccine. Tell your provider if you have any serious allergies.
- Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of hepatitis B vaccine should not get another dose.
- Anyone who is moderately or severely ill should probably wait until they recover.
- Pregnant women who need protection from hepatitis B may be vaccinated, but should check with their doctor first.
What are the side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine?
- Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite
Severe problems (rare):
- Difficulty breathing
- Pale skin
- Fast heartbeat
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.
It's extremely rare for these vaccines to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.
The hepatitis B vaccine is available at:
Healthcare Clinic for patients aged 7+.
Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.
Walk in or schedule an appointment at the location nearest you.
If you believe you have a medical emergency, please call 911.
Tell your doctor or a healthcare provider if the person getting the vaccine has any severe allergies.
Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit the CDC website, at cdc.gov/vaccines, for more vaccine information.
Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2007.
Vaccine Information Statement: Hepatitis B Vaccine (What You Need to Know) February 2, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-hep-b.pdf. Accessed April 2013.
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