Hepatitis B

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What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that infects the liver. It is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases affecting travellers and can cause either acute or chronic infection.

About 90 to 95 percent of adults with acute hepatitis B infection will clear the virus on their own within six months, and develop lifelong protection against it.

Some people are unable to clear the virus, and develop chronic hepatitis B. Untreated chronic hepatitis B can later develop into serious health problems. Children under four years old are at particular risk of chronic hepatitis B, because only up to 10% will clear the virus.

What is my risk?   

Your risk depends of several factors: destination, length of stay, what you do when you are travelling and whether you have direct contact with blood or other body fluids. In certain destinations, your risk may be higher, as some areas have higher numbers of people with chronic hepatitis B in the general population.  

The risk increases with certain activities, such as unprotected sex, sharing needles, tattooing and acupuncture.

Aid and health care workers and anyone who receives medical or dental care with unsterilized or contaminated equipment in a country where hepatitis B occurs are also at greater risk.

How is it transmitted?

Hepatitis B is highly infectious, and is spread from one person to another through exposure to infected blood and body fluids (including semen and vaginal fluid). It can be spread through:

What are the symptoms?

What is the treatment?

Where is hepatitis B a concern?

Hepatitis B occurs worldwide.

Regions with higher numbers of people with chronic hepatitis B in the general population include parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, South and Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

A map of countries and areas of risk for hepatitis B is available on the World Health Organization (WHO) website.


Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

  1. Get vaccinated if you are at risk but are not immunized (either through previous vaccination or previous hepatitis B infection). Those at risk include:
  1. Protect yourself:

It is not always possible to protect yourself against accidents and the possibility that you may need urgent health care (medical or dental) while travelling. In developing countries, urgent medical care may increase your risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B and other infections transmitted by blood. If you receive medical care while in another country, it is important to follow up with your health care provider when you return to Canada, and to inform them of the care you received abroad.

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