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Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Hepatitis B (Hep B) Vaccine

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Hepatitis B, also known as hep B or HBV, is a viral infection of the liver.
  • There are six strains of hepatitis; but hepatitis B is the most common with 2 billion people infected worldwide.
  • The virus is spread to other people by sexual contact and contact with blood and certain body fluids (saliva, semen and vaginal fluid).  For example, you can get hepatitis B by:
    • Having sexual activity with an infected person,
    • Sharing contaminated needles and other drug related paraphernalia (pipes, cookers, straws or spoons),
    • Using non-sterile equipment for tattooing/piercing or aesthetic procedures (nail clippers, razors, scissors),
    • An infected mother passing the virus to her baby through childbirth, or
    • Exposure to blood and body fluids in the workplace.

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How Hepatitis B Affects Your Health

  • Some people who get hepatitis B never feel sick. Others develop flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea. Some become very ill with fever, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-coloured stools and jaundice (yellowish colour of the skin and eyes).
  • Within 6 months of being infected, most people recover completely and are protected from future infections of hepatitis B.
  • About 5-10 % of people who are infected with hepatitis B go on to become chronic carriers. Carriers continue to carry the virus in their blood and body fluids for life and can pass the virus to others. People who are carriers of the hepatitis B virus can look healthy but many may develop cirrhosis or cancer of the liver later in life.
  • If you are infected with hepatitis B (whether you are ill or not), you can pass the virus to other people.
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to damage of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and/or death.
  • The hepatitis B virus causes about 80% of all cancers of the liver.
  • Hepatitis B is not spread by coughing or sneezing, by water, food or casual contact.

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Protecting Against Hepatitis B through Immunization

  • In Canada, the hepatitis B is available in two vaccines:
    • A vaccine that protects against hepatitis B,
    • A vaccine that protects against hepatitis A and B; which is primarily used for travel.
  • The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) has provided free hepatitis B vaccine to all grade 7 students in Ontario through school-based clinics since 1994.
  • Grade seven students in Ontario are offered the opportunity to be immunized against hepatitis B at an age before they are most likely to be exposed to the virus.
  • The vaccine used in the school clinics is the monovalent hepatitis B vaccine.
  • According to the vaccine manufacturer, the hepatitis B vaccine is at least 99% effective in preventing hepatitis B infection in healthy adolescents.
  • Studies have shown the vaccine to be safe and those who have received the vaccine report few side effects. The most common side effects are redness, soreness, swelling or itchiness at the needle site.
  • The vaccine does not contain the virus. It contains only parts of the virus, so you cannot be infected by the virus from the vaccine.
  • The vaccine is licensed for individuals of all ages.
  • If your child has received three doses of the combined Hep A/B travel vaccine then s/he may not need to be immunized against hepatitis B again.
  • If your child has received three doses of hep B vaccine from a doctor, then s/he may not need any more doses.
  • Individuals who are considered at high risk for getting hepatitis B may be eligible to receive the hepatitis B vaccine for free.
  • For more information on high-risk groups, please call Peel Public Health.

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The Grade 7 Hep B Immunization Program

  • Consents are sent home to all grade 7 students in the fall of each school year and parental/legal guardian permission is required for all students under 14 years of age.
  • Immunization against hepatitis B is voluntary but strongly recommended by Peel Public Health.
  • Grade 7 students with a valid consent will be given two doses of the vaccine 6 months apart by registered nurses at school-based clinics.
  • Individuals who are not eligible for the publicly funded vaccine are able to access the vaccine through their family physicians for a fee. The cost of the vaccine is not covered by OHIP. Only the doctor’s fee to give the injection is covered by OHIP. Normally the cost of two injections, if purchased from the pharmacy and given by your doctor, would be about $100.
  • The school immunization clinic schedule is available through the school or Peel Public Health.
  • If your child is not in a traditional school setting, please call Peel Public Health to discuss available options for getting the vaccine.

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How to Prevent a Hep B Infection

  • Be immunized. Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease which can be prevented.
  • Avoid touching the blood or body fluids of another person. 

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Reliable Resources on Hepatitis B and the Hepatitis B Vaccine

For More Information Call Peel Health at: 905-799-7700.
Caledon Residents Can Call Free Of Charge at 905-584-2216.

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Immunize On Time. Report Every Time.

Revised: Tuesday July 16 2013

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