Hepatitis Vaccination

The term ‘hepatitis‘ means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by viruses, other infectious agents, alcohol, and other chemicals. There are various Hepatitis viruses which include A, B, C, D, E and possibly G. Types A, B and C are the most common. All can cause acute hepatitis. Viral Hepatitis B and C can cause Chronic Hepatitis which can lead to Liver Cirrhosis (fibrosis) and in some cases Liver cancer (Hepatocellular carcinoma). They differ in the way they are transmitted from person to person.

Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B is caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV), and is spread by contact with body fluids, such as blood( blood transfusion with infected blood products), saliva, semen, or vaginal fluids (sexual intercourse); by needle sticks or sharing needles; or from mother to child. Inadvertent exposure to infected blood or body fluids may occur during tattooing, body piercing, or when sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person. Persons infected with hepatitis B may be asymptomatic or may develop fatigue, jaundice, and weight loss, liver failure and possible death.

Most infected adults are able to clear the hepatitis B virus from their body and become immune to further infections with hepatitis B. However, some people are not able to clear the hepatitis B virus and it progresses to chronic (persistent) infection and inflammation of the liver. Most infants infected at birth and 25% to 50% of infected children aged 1–5 years have chronic persistent infection.


Chronic infection may be mild or may damage the liver.

Vaccination has reduced the number of new cases of hepatitis B by more than 75% in the United States. The hepatitis B vaccine contains a protein (antigen) that stimulates the body to make protective antibodies. Hepatitis B vaccines are effective and safe.

Centers that serve high-risk individuals are encouraged to provide the vaccine to their clients. Such centers include: dialysis units, drug treatment facilities, sexually transmitted diseases clinics and correctional facilities.

A blood test for hepatitis B antibodies is recommended after vaccination to ensure that antibodies have been produced. For the few who do not form antibodies, revaccination may improve the response, especially in infants. However, a small proportion of individuals will never respond to hepatitis B vaccination. Side effects from the vaccine usually are mild, primarily soreness at the site of injection. The risk of serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) is less than one per million doses.

In the United States, hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all infants at birth. Older children and adolescents should receive the vaccine if they did not receive it at birth. Adults in high risk situations also are advised to receive hepatitis B vaccine.

Some countries have a high prevalence of hepatitis B in their population. Travelers who visit these countries for a prolonged period of time (usually 6 months or longer) and those who may be exposed to blood or semen should consider vaccination.

Unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to a known case of hepatitis B or to a person at high risk for hepatitis B should be evaluated by a physician. Examples of such exposures include needle stick injuries in health care workers or sexual intercourse with an infected person. If the exposure is significant, the physician will recommend vaccination and may also recommend an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). HBIG is prepared from the plasma of blood donors and contains antibodies to hepatitis B. Vaccination and HBIG can substantially reduce the risk of disease in persons exposed to hepatitis B if given within one week of a needle stick or two weeks of sexual intercourse.



The major cause of liver cancer is hepatitis B and C, and can develop silently as the liver becomes cirrhotic. Blood tests, ultrasound examinations, CT and MRI scans can identify the cancers (seen here in green). Biopsy of the liver is needed to definitely make a diagnosis of cancer. If the cancers are found early, a small proportion of patients can be cured.

 

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