Hepatitis B : How can it be prevented?

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Hepatitis B
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How can it be prevented?

The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to be vaccinated. Two HBV vaccines are available: Recombivax HB and Engerix-B. Both of these vaccines require three injections administered over a six-month period. The side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine are usually mild and may include soreness at the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms. There is also a combined hepatitis A (HAV) and HBV vaccine available (Twinrix), which also requires three injections administered over a six-month period but offers the added advantage of providing protection against both viral infections.

The HBV vaccine is generally effective for more than 90% of adults and children who receive all three doses. However, some research suggests that people with HIV are less likely to develop immunity to HBV through vaccination, especially if they have compromised immune systems. So it is best for people with HIV to receive the hepatitis B vaccine when T4 cell counts are within healthy ranges. There is evidence that adding additional doses to the standard vaccine course might decrease the chance that a person will fail to benefit from the vaccine, but there are no official recommendations in this regard.

If you do not think you were ever infected with hepatitis B, talk to your healthcare provider. The vaccine is recommended for:

  • People with HIV
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Injection drug users
  • People with chronic hepatitis C virus
  • Heterosexual adults with more than one sex partner in the last six months or a history of sexually transmitted disease
  • People who work in places where there is a risk of infection (such as hospitals and doctors' offices)
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • People who share living quarters with someone with chronic hepatitis B

Increasingly, universal vaccination against HBV is being recommended for all children.

If you have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B, there are still things you can do to prevent HBV infection. These include using a condom or another type of latex barrier while having sex. If you are an injection drug user and share equipment, cleaning your syringes with bleach will not help you avoid hepatitis B ? it's always best to use new needles to prevent the risk of HBV infection. Also, don't share items that may have been contaminated with someone else's blood such as toothbrushes, razors, and needles used for body piercing, tattooing, or acupuncture.

If you have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B and fear that you were recently exposed to HBV—for example, after being poked with a used hypodermic needle or as a result of sexual contact with a person with hepatitis B—it is possible to receive a single injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). HBIG is recommended following exposure to hepatitis B virus because it provides immediate, short-term protection against the virus. A dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is given at the same time. Two additional doses of hepatitis B vaccine are given to complete the series and ensure long-term protection.


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Last Revised: November 19, 2010

This content is written by the POZ and AIDSmeds editorial team. For more information, please visit our "About Us" page.

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