Everything you need to know about the vaccine for hepatitis B

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Everything you need to know about the vaccine for hepatitis B

The vaccine for hepatitis B is Heplisav-B (Dynavax). The vaccine offers life-time protection against hepatitis B infection and preventable chronic liver disease. 

The hepatitis B vaccine is known as the first “anti-cancer” vaccine because it prevents the transmission of the hepatitis B virus 

Heplisav-B (Dynavax) is administered as a two dose vaccine, taken one month apart. 

Heplisav-B (Dynavax) is approved for use in infants at birth and for children up to the age of 18 years. It is also recommended that some adults get vaccinated, particularly those who are at high risk of infection due to their lifestyle, jobs, living situations or country of birth. 

If you haven’t been vaccinated, it is strongly recommended that you consider getting vaccinated to offer better protection against the virus. 

It is important to note that if you have hepatitis B, or are HBsAG positive, receiving the vaccine will not help you to clear the virus, which is why it is so important to get vaccinated. The only way to confirm if you have hepatitis B is to get tested

Who should get the hepatitis B vaccine?

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants and children up to age 18 years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC states that every person may be at some risk for a hepatitis B infection during their lifetime, so everyone should get vaccinated. 

There are also groups that the CDC highly recommends receiving the hepatitis B vaccine, including: 

  • All infants, beginning at birth
  • All children aged <19 years who have not been vaccinated previously
  • Susceptible sexual partners of hepatitis B-positive persons
  • Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (e.g., >one sex partner during the previous six months)
  • Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Susceptible household contacts of hepatitis B-positive persons
  • Healthcare and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood
  • Persons with end-stage renal disease, including pre-dialysis, hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and home dialysis patients
  • Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons
  • Travelers to and families adopting from countries where hepatitis B is common (e.g. Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East)
  • Persons with chronic liver disease, other than hepatitis B (e.g. cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, etc.)
  • Persons with hepatitis C infection
  • Persons with HIV infection
  • Adults with diabetes aged 19 through 59 years (clinicians can decide whether or not to vaccinate their diabetic patients ≥60 years)
  • All other persons seeking protection from HBV infection — acknowledgment of a specific risk factor is not a requirement for vaccination

hepatitis-b-symptoms

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.

The CDC states that people may become infected via: 

  • Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)
  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment
  • Sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors, or medical equipment (like a glucose monitor) with an infected person
  • Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
  • Exposure to an infected person’s blood through needlesticks or other sharp instruments

How often do you need to be vaccinated for hepatitis B?

You only need to get vaccinated once in a lifetime, and this will offer you protection for life. 

The vaccine can be given in 2-3 doses, depending on the age in which you receive your vaccination. 

Booster doses are not recommended for people with normal immune status who have been vaccinated.

Only certain people should receive a booster dose in specific situations. For hemodialysis patients, a booster dose may need to be administered.

For other immunocompromised people such as those living with HIV, hematopoietic stem-cell transplant recipients, and people receiving chemotherapy, the need for booster doses has not been determined. 

How long does the hepatitis B vaccine last for?

30 years, according to the Immunization Action Coalition

“Studies indicate that immunologic memory remains intact for at least 30 years among healthy people who initiated hepatitis B vaccination at >6 months of age.”

The vaccine ensures long-term protection against clinical illness and chronic hepatitis B virus infection. 

FAQs

Is it safe to be around someone with hepatitis B?

If you understand the risks of hepatitis B transmission, it is safe to be around someone with hepatitis B. The most important thing to know is that there are associated risks, but if you understand those risks, you should feel perfectly safe around someone who has hepatitis. 

Here are some of precautions you can take to stay safe, summarised from the Mayo Clinic guidelines: 

  • Don’t have unprotected sex with anyone without knowing their sexual health status 
  • Use a condom every time you have sex
  • Don’t use or share needles for drug use
  • Be cautious if you are considering body piercing or tattoos, always ensure that safe health standards are in place
  • If you have not been vaccinated for hepatitis B, enquire with your doctor 
  • If you’re going abroad, and you know that hepatitis B is prevalent in the location where you’re travelling, ask your doctor about whether or not you should get vaccinated 

Can you get hepatitis B from kissing?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, hepatitis B is not spread through sneezing, coughing, hugging, or breastfeeding. Although the virus can be found in saliva, it is not believed to be spread through kissing or sharing utensils.

How long is hepatitis B contagious? 

Hepatitis B is contagious for as long as a person is infected with the virus. Someone who is living with hepatitis B is highly contagious, even when they are not experiencing symptoms. 

The symptoms of hepatitis can take up to three months to appear, and they can last anywhere between 2-12 weeks. It is hugely important that someone who has been infected with the virus gets treated as soon as possible to prevent further transmission. 

Can a vaccinated person get hepatitis B?

Once you get the hepatitis B vaccine, you are protected for life and do not need to worry about contracting the virus through any mode of transmission.

Written by Hannah Kingston on June 4, 2021

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