First of all, some informations, worth knowing about hepatitis B
Approximately 350 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic hepatitis B infection, 75% of them in the Asia-Pacific region. In contrast to hepatitis A, hepatitis B can become chronic and lead to severe liver damage and even cirrhosis with liver failure.
Every year, 0.5 – 1 million people worldwide die from hepatitis B complications. 80% of all liver cancer diseases are caused by hepatitis B infection. Along with malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, the WHO has identified hepatitis B as one of the four most important global infectious diseases.
In Germany, the number of people chronically infected with hepatitis B is estimated at about 500 000. Of these, approx. 100 – 150.000 are diagnosed, approx. 15% are treated antivirally. A large number of hepatitis B patients do not know when and where the infection was acquired!
Since 1995, newborns in Germany have been vaccinated against hepatitis B. The vaccination rate is approx. 95 %. The costs for the vaccination are reimbursed by the statutory health insurance up to the age of 18; after that the vaccination usually has to be paid for by the patient.
Although in recent years, enormous progress has been made in the treatment of hepatitis B, the well-tolerated vaccination is the best protection against the disease.
When should travelers be vaccinated against hepatitis B?
While the crucial question for vaccination against hepatitis A is “Where do you go?”, the question for hepatitis B is “What do you do?
The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood transfusions, contact with infected blood (e.g. through an open wound when caring for an injured person), medical care (syringes, infusions) abroad with low hygienic standards and through unprotected sexual intercourse.
Not all of these situations can be consciously avoided, especially not on long journeys. Therefore, if there is a corresponding risk, vaccination is recommended.
The vaccination is given twice every four weeks before the journey (possibly in combination with hepatitis A) and a third time approx. 9 – 12 months after the first vaccination.
After that, there is usually a reliable protection against hepatitis B (in case of combined vaccination, also against hepatitis A) for about 10 years.
The vaccination is usually well tolerated; occasionally there is pain at the injection site, which disappears after a few days. Rarely there is nausea or a temporary, slight increase in liver values occuring.