Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious infectious disease that attacks the liver and can lead to lifelong infection and even death. The virus is spread when an individual comes in contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person through broken skin or mucous membranes. Each year approximately 3,000 - 5,000 people die from hepatitis B. Although there is no cure, the infection can be prevented by vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination of everyone 18 years of age and under, as well as others at high risk for hepatitis B, including anyone with more than one lifetime sexual partner.

Unprotected sex, non-sterile body piercing and tattoos, sharing needles, toothbrushes, razors and pierced earrings, and travel abroad to countries where hepatitis B is common, can increase the risk for college students. In addition, health sciences students (e.g., nursing and medical students) are at particular risk of exposure through patient care.

The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective, but should not be given to anyone who has had a life-threatening reaction to baker's yeast or to a previous dose of the vaccine. The most common side effect of the vaccine is soreness at the site of the injection. Vaccination requires a series of three shots over a six month period and provides long-term immunity. In addition to vaccination, people can attempt to reduce their risk by using condoms during sex and avoiding tattooing and body piercing with non-sterile instruments or techniques. They should also avoid sharing needles, pierced earrings, razors or toothbrushes.