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HEPATITIS "A" OR "B"
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:00:57 AM

This is a weekly series to reduce the risk of Hepatitis “A” or “B”. The series will run for 12 weeks on-line to help all understand how to protect ourselves.

What is Hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is usually caused by a number of different viruses that have one thing in common – they attack your liver. Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G are all known to exist, but A and B are the most common in Canada.

HOW SERIOUS ARE HEPATITIS A AND B?

Both types of hepatitis are considered serious liver diseases. Both hepatitis A and B can result in:

· No noticeable symptoms at first so that you may inadvertently infect other people, or
· Symptoms such as weakness, headache, fever, malaise, stomach cramps or other gastro-intestinal symptoms, diarrhea and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of eyes).

Hepatitis A specifically can result in:

· A lengthy recovery, sometimes lasting up to 6 months and absence from school or work.
· Hospitalization in about 25% of adult cases; possible death, although rare.

Hepatitis B specifically can result in:

· Several months of recovery; possible death.
· Up to 10% of those infected may develop long-term (chronic) infection – placing them at risk for cancer and cirrhosis of the liver later in life.

HOW DOES HEPATITIS A SPREAD?

Hepatitis is transmitted orally, most commonly through the things we eat and drink. Just because food or water “looks great,” it is no indication as to whether the virus is not present.

You may be at risk if, it is washed in water that has been contaminated, and then not cooked thoroughly.

You may also contact the disease through unprotected sexual contact with another person.

AM I AT RISK FOR HEPATITIS A?

People travelling to developing regions, including some popular vacation destinations, are at risk. Resorts do not offer protection and avoiding potentially contaminated food or drink is difficult.

Other examples of those at risk include residents of communities with high rates of infection, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, members of the armed forces, health care workers, public safety workers, frequent travelers, recreational oral or intravenous drug users, and those engaging in unprotected sex with an infected partner.

HOW DOES HEPATITIS B SPREAD?

Hepatitis B may be transmitted through close contact with other people where there is some exchange of blood or other bodily fluids. Sexual contact is therefore the most common way it spreads, but it is not the only way.

Transmission can occur through voluntary activities like unprotected sex, medical treatment, tattooing or body piercing, or through involuntary accidents allowing contact with scratches, cuts, syringes, razors or objects that contain trace amounts of blood or bodily fluids. Mothers can also pass this disease to their children during pregnancy.

AM I AT RISK FOR HEPATITIS B?

People who engage in unprotected sex are at greatest risk. Residents of communities with high rates of infection, health care and emergency personnel, children and staff at day-care centres in which there is a hepatitis B – infected child, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, blood product recipients, and injection drug users are also at risk.

As with hepatitis A, people travelling to, or working in underdeveloped countries, are also at risk because the number of infected people in these countries is much higher. Immigrants to Canada, including adopted children may be chronic carriers of the disease.

HOW CAN I AVOID CONTRACTING HEPATITIS A OR B?

Once you know how the diseases spread, you can take appropriate precautions. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to guarantee your safety. Almost 50% of individuals who contract hepatitis “A” and 35% who contracted hepatitis “B” have no known risk factors. One of the most effective preventive measures is immunization.

I’M NOT SURE WHAT VACCINATIONS I’VE RECEIVED. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Like many people, you may be uncertain about what vaccinations you’ve received during your lifetime. Although hepatitis B vaccination is part of school programs today, it hasn’t always been that way. There is no problem in “starting over” when it comes to keeping a record of which diseases you have been protected against through vaccination. Some patients can receive vaccination twice for the same disease, without significant health risk. Individual vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B or there also is a more convenient combination vaccine offering dual protection for both. You and your doctor can decide which option is best for you.

WHAT IS TWINRIX?

Twinrix is a combination vaccine for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Like other vaccines, it works by strengthening your body’s own immune system to fight off disease.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS TWINRIX AT REDUCING THE RISK?

Vaccine efficacy is measured by how well the body’s immune system has responded with the antibodies it needs to protect you. It doesn’t take long for almost 100% of the people who have received Twinrix to be protected.

HOW LONG WILL PROTECTION LAST?

Twinrix offers long-term protection. The complete length of protection has not yet been established. However you can expect many years of protection.

HOW MANY VACCINATIONS DO I NEED?

Compared to separate vaccinations for each type of hepatitis, Twinrix means fewer trips to the doctor’s office. You only need three visits in total – your initial dose, another at 1 month and the final at 6 months following your first dose. Just as it is important to finish taking all the pills in an antibiotic prescription, you need to receive all your doses for maximum protection.

ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS FROM THE VACCINE?

Sometimes yes, but they tend to be mild and don’t last long. Between 0.3% and 10% of adults in clinical trials reported mild reactions that were possibly related to Twinrix: fever, headache, malaise, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Adults reported injection site reaction in a proportion of 1.5%.

IS THE COST COVERED BY PROVINCIAL HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS?

In general, the cost of vaccination is not covered and is the responsibility of the individual. However some private or employer plans do cover this cost so it is wise to check your coverage.

As Twinrix is a dual vaccine it costs less than two separate vaccines. However you look at it, vaccination is a small price to pay for the peace-of-mind of long term protection.

WHAT ROLE DOES IMMUNIZATION PLAY IN MY LIFE?

Preventing disease through immunization is one of the most effective things you can do to stay healthy. Many adults are unaware that vaccinations are available and part of healthy lifestyle choices. If you’re uncertain about you or your family’s immunization status, please see your doctor. A number of diseases are preventable through vaccination and new vaccines are constantly developed. You should have an up-to-date record of your vaccinations, so you can rest assured that you’re doing everything you can to maintain your health.

End of series information.