Hepatitis B Vaccine
What is Hepatitis B and what are the complications of having Hepatitis B disease?
Hepatitis B is one of several types of hepatitis virus that attack the liver. It is spread from person to person through contact with infected blood and body fluids in one of the following ways:
- through a break in skin or directly in a mucous membrane (e.g. mouth);
- by sharing a toothbrush, razor or needle, and particularly by sharing of needles while injecting drugs;
- during sexual intercourse; or
- during birth from an infected mother to her baby.
Hepatitis B can be mild or may not cause any symptoms; some people do not know they have this illness. Other people are very sick with fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach or joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of skin and white part of eyes).
Sometimes this illness may cause liver cancer and other serious liver problems such as cirrhosis of the liver. This occurs over many years rather than soon after infection.
What are the contents of the vaccine?
This vaccine is developed from inactivated (dead) virus cultured in yeast cells and, when administered, causes the body to make an antibody against Hepatitis B virus. The vaccine contains traces of non-medicinal products that keep the vaccine sterile, stable and help it to be more effective.
All vaccine contents are licensed for use in Canada by the Biologics and Genetics Therapies Directorate within Health Canada. A complete listing of products contained in the vaccine is available from the public health nurse.
What are the possible reactions from the vaccine and how should they be managed?
The most serious but rare side effect is a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) which can be life threatening and usually occurs within 15 to 20 minutes of receiving the vaccine. Procedures are in place for the nurse to quickly respond to anaphylaxis by administering adrenaline. The most common side effects of the vaccine include:
- Localized swelling, redness, itching, warmth and/or tenderness/pain at the injection site
- Mild headache, tiredness and irritability have been reported
It is not necessary to give acetaminophen after every immunization. If discomfort or fever occurs acetaminophen can relieve these symptoms.
- Remain in the waiting room for 15 minutes after immunization.
- See a doctor or seek medical attention if any serious side effect occurs.
- Report serious reactions to the public health nurse.
When should the Hepatitis B vaccine not be given?
Hepatitis B vaccine should not be given to persons in the following situations:
- Those who have had an anaphylactic (severe or life threatening) reaction to any of the contents of this vaccine or to a previous dose of Hepatitis B vaccine.
- Those who are acutely ill with fever should return for their immunization at a later date.
The safety of Hepatitis A and B vaccines during pregnancy is being studied. The vaccine is prepared from inactivated virus and it is anticipated there is no risk to the developing fetus. If there is an exposure during pregnancy, it is advisable to consult with the attending physician.
What are the risks if the vaccine is not received?
Hepatitis B is a preventable disease. The chance of acquiring Hepatitis B is related to a person’s risk of exposure. These risks include:
- careers that have higher rates of exposure to blood and body fluids such as health care and emergency service personnel;
- persons working or living in, or visiting, an area where Hepatitis B is common;
- those involved in high-risk lifestyle activities (eg. intravenous drug use);
- household contacts of an infected person;
- infants born to Hepatitis B positive mothers; and
- occupations such as those who may be exposed to sharps, aggressive behavior and/or injury (eg. correctional and police officers, sewage and waste workers).
Hepatitis B vaccine is very safe and, when given as recommended, Hepatitis B vaccine is over 95 per cent effective in persons with a normal immune system when given before exposure.