Who should receive Hepatitis B vaccine?

Hepatitis B is a serious viral infection of the liver, sometimes known as serum hepatitis. Although most people recovered without problems, the infection can lead to chronic liver disease and even death. The disease is usually contracted through sexual intercourse, expose to contaminated blood or blood products, or to an infant from its mother’s breast milk. Occasionally it can be transmitted by close contact between two persons, for example, through saliva.

New Zealand has high prevalence of hepatitis B, especially in the North Island; in Kawerau, blood tests have shown that 75 percent of non-European adolescents had been infected. High levels are also found among Australian Aborigines.

People likely to contact hepatitis (through their jobs, social or family life, illness and related exposure, or travel) should receive primary immunization with the hepatitis B virus vaccine. The high-risk groups include (1) health care workers, especially those who work with blood and blood products; (2) homosexual males and heterosexually active person with numerous partners and exposure to sexually transmitted infections; (3) intravenous drug users; (4) long-term prison inmates; (5) residents and staff of institutions for the mentally retarded; (6) haemophiliacs and recipients of blood products; (7) patients with kidney failure or who are on dialysis; (8) long-stay travelers in areas where hepatitis B is widespread; (9) household and sexual contacts of hepatitis B carriers; (10) neonates born to women in high risk population groups.

Basic immunization against hepatitis B consists of a series of three injections of hepatitis B virus vaccine. The first does should be given in the muscle of the upper arm. The second and third shots should be given at the same site one month and six months later. This initial series produce protective antibodies in over 95 percent of adults. It is effective in preventing hepatitis for at least two years. In high-risk groups (as listed in the previous answer), a booster revaccination should be considered three to five years later.

The best way to prevent getting a disease is to avoid exposure to it. If that isn’t possible, immunization with the vaccine before you are exposed is the next best thing. If, however, you haven’t been immunized and are exposed, you may acquire passive immunity with injections of hepatitis B immune globulin.

This substance is prepared from the plasma of patients who have recovered from hepatitis B, and thus have a high level of immunity, or antibodies to it. The immune globulin is given as soon as possible after exposure; further doses are unnecessary if the vaccine is also given. The only known side effect is discomfort at the injection site. If you fell you have been exposed to the disease, it is important that you contact your doctor as early as possible.

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