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Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus. Its incubation period lasts about 4 months (1 to 6 months).
In young children, hepatitis B is often asymptomatic. In adults, about a third of infected individuals experience no symptoms while another third is afflicted with a flu-like syndrome of varying intensity. The rest develop a classic clinical syndrome with malaise, headaches, myalgia, nausea, loss of appetite, unusual fatigue, hepatomegaly (enlarged liver), and icterus (jaundice). Symptoms usually last 4 to 6 weeks, but can persist for up to 6 months. In 90 percent of cases, the disease is self-limiting. Among infected adults, 6 to 10 percent will become long-term carriers of the disease.
The virus is present in body fluids of the infected person: blood, sperm, vaginal secretions, etc. Transmission occurs during sexual intercourse or through contact with contaminated blood (via a bloodstained instrument, for example). Infected mothers can transmit the disease to their infants during vaginal delivery. The infection is most contagious during the second and third month of the incubation period and its contagiousness can linger for several weeks after symptoms have appeared. The infection confers permanent immunity.
The risk of contracting hepatitis B while travelling is low. People who stay abroad for long periods are more at risk. To protect oneself during sexual contact, always use a latex or polyurethane condom during sexual intercourse. To prevent the transmission through contaminated instruments, only use clean, sterile injection material.
There is a vaccine against hepatitis B (Engerix™, Heptavax™, Recombivax™). Three intramuscular shots are required. The second dose is administered 1 month after the first, and the third dose 6 months after the first. The vaccine confers good immunity on 80 to 95 percent of people. Even if the whole vaccination schedule cannot be completed before leaving on a trip, the first two shots still confer some immunity.
Hepatitis B vaccine is now part of most of the provincial immunization schedules.
For more informations :
The Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness & Promotion
Essential information for a safe trip
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