Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes liver disease. Hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and body fluids of infected people. People infected with hepatitis B virus can spread it to others.

You can be infected with hepatitis B virus if you

  • Have sex with an infected partner
  • Share needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment with an infected person
  • Share personal care items such as razors, toothbrushes, or medical equipment, such as a glucose monitor, with an infected person
  • Get cut with a sharp instrument or have a needlestick injury in a health care setting
  • Touch the blood or open sores of an infected person

Early symptoms of hepatitis B can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes).

Some infected people develop chronic (lifelong) hepatitis B. The long-term health effects caused by chronic hepatitis B infection can cause people to die early from liver disease and liver cancer.

Who is at risk?

Hepatitis B occurs in nearly every part of the world but is more common in some countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. This map shows the worldwide prevalence of hepatitis B virus infection.

Although the risk to most travelers is low, medical tourists (people who travel for medical purposes) or people who need emergency medical care while traveling may be more likely to get infected.   

What can travelers do to prevent disease?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a routine vaccination that infants in the United States receive at birth. The hepatitis B vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing infection and has been routinely recommended for infants since 1991. The vaccine is given in 2, 3, or 4 shots and the series of shots is usually completed by 6 months of age.

The hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for unvaccinated travelers of all ages going to countries where hepatitis B infection is common.  The vaccine is given in 2 or 3 doses. Check if Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for your destination.

If you trip is soon, talk to your doctor about accelerated dosing and ask about getting the combination hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine.

stethoscope

If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.

If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.

Traveler Information

Clinician Information