Everything You Need to Know About the Hepatitis B Vaccine
A guide to the vaccines travelers should know.
Hep B refers to the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), an affliction of the liver, which is transmitted through blood, semen or other bodily fluids. Rather ominously, it has been referred to by doctors as the “silent epidemic,” due to the virus’ ability to go unnoticed by patients who have it.
Though some report initial symptoms of fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice, a good number remain symptom-free at the beginning. Even scarier: an initial infection with Hep B can potentially remain in the body and turn into a chronic disease, which can then cause liver problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer further down the road.
Related: A Guide to the Hepatitis A Vaccine
The disease, however, is entirely preventable and treatable. Because of the way it’s transmitted, it’s a good idea to avoid sharing needles, razors, or even a toothbrush with someone who may be infected (and, it should go without saying, practicing safe sex is imperative).
The disease is not spread through kissing, coughing, or sneezing.
The Hepatitis B Vaccine
The vaccine for Hepatitis B was developed in 1965, and even won its inventor a Nobel Prize. These days the vaccine — a series of three shots given over the course of six months — is routine for infants, who are given the first shot at birth and complete the series by 6 months of age. For all children or adults who grew up with the 3-dose vaccine, they are set for life and require no further shots.
Related: A Guide to the Rabies Vaccine
As with most vaccines, you’ll need to plan well in advance of your trip — roughly 6 months prior to departure — to allow the vaccine’s antibodies to kick in and be effective (in other words, don’t show up at the doctor a week before you leave and expect to be instantly immunized.)
The Hep B vaccine is covered by most private insurance plans, and in most cases can be combined with a Hep A vaccine for a 3-dose procedure that totals between $330 and $700. Alternatively, the Hep B vaccine alone costs around $25 to $80 per dose, and you’ll need three visits to complete the series.
The Hep B vaccine is recommended for any adults traveling overseas to areas that are affected, but it is not required for entry into specific countries.