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By: RSC Editorial Team

December 4, 2022

Hepatitis B Vaccine: How Effective Is It Against STDs?

Hepatitis B is the most common serious infection of the liver, and it's caused by a virus that is even more infectious than HIV. Because hepatitis B spreads through body fluids, doctors consider it a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and rapid STD tests can detect the virus.

If you're wondering, “is there a hepatitis B vaccine?”, the good news is that there is, and it's extremely effective. The U.S. is on track to eradicate the virus by 2030. By staying current with your hepatitis B vaccines, you can stay safe during sexual intercourse and around needles and other risk factors. We'll get into the symptoms of hepatitis B below, explain what the vaccine does and how often you should get it, and go over who should get the shot.

What Is Hepatitis B? 

Hepatitis B is a liver infection that develops after exposure to the hepatitis B virus (HBV). 

For most people, the infection is short-term and may clear up on its own or with antiviral medications. However, nearly 300 million people globally have chronic hepatitis B, which is an infection that lasts more than six months. This is incredibly dangerous for the liver: the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that that over 800,000 people died, in 2019 alone, from the resulting liver cancer or cirrhosis. 

According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, two billion people currently have the hepatitis B virus: That's one in three worldwide. 

How Does Hepatitis B Spread?

The hepatitis B virus spreads through both casual and sexual contact with an infected person's body fluids. Just one-fifth of a teaspoon of an infected person's blood can contain an estimated billion viruses. 

The virus can survive for a week outside the body, even in dried blood, so it's not just sex partners who pass it along—according to WHO, pregnant people can transmit the virus to their babies during birth. 

Beyond parent-to-child during birth, the virus spreads through blood and bodily fluids: 

  • Needlesticks
  • Tattoos and piercings
  • Exposure to saliva or menstrual discharge
  • Using contaminated needles
  • Having multiple sex partners

If you think you may have been exposed and aren't sure if you're up-to-date with your hep B vaccine, schedule same-day STD testing at one of Rapid STD Testing's 2,500 clinics for confidential, fast, accurate results.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B 

Most children and adults present no symptoms when they're infected, but there is the possibility of an acute illness that could last several weeks for the unlucky. This is important, especially considering that the incubation period (the time at which you're contagious) can last up to six months!  

Symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Pain in the stomach and abdomen
  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the eyes or skin 
  • Dark urine  
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Liver failure

Hepatitis B is called the “silent epidemic” because so many infected and contagious carriers never show symptoms. 

How Does the Hepatitis B Shot Work? 

You can protect yourself against hepatitis B with the vaccine, which consists of three shots over six months. 

So what is the hep B vaccine? Antibodies in your blood fight viruses like hepatitis B. These antibodies can develop naturally, by exposure to a virus, or in the form of a vaccination. 

The hepatitis B vaccine is made from a protein that sits on the surface of the virus. By administering the hepatitis B injection with those bits of surface protein, they help your body create an immune defense against future hepatitis B infections.

By 2019, more than 80% of all infants born worldwide received three doses of the vaccine at birth, one month later, and six months later. The same sequence applies for some adults, starting from the first injection. 

Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you can receive the hepatitis B vaccine along with, or even mixed with, other vaccines. Adults might get a combination vaccine for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. 

Hep B Vaccine: What Is It For? 

The hepatitis B vaccine gives you 98% protection from the disease, as America's medical community plans to eradicate the disease by 2030. Anyone born after 1991 is probably already vaccinated, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your risk of exposure is greater if you: 

  • Have diabetes, HIV, hepatitis C, or another STD 
  • Have sex or live with someone who has hepatitis B  
  • Use drugs with needles  
  • Come into contact with blood at your job  
  • Receive dialysis  
  • Travel to countries where hepatitis B is common

How Effective is the Hepatitis B Shot? 

Now that infants are universally vaccinated within the first six months of life, the scientific community is seeing excellent results. An Oxford study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2016, showed hepatitis B vaccination efficacy of about 90%, even 20 years later. 

Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Safe? 

The hep B vaccine is 98-100% safe and effective, according to the WHO. Common side effects include soreness and swelling at the injection site, headache, and fever—none of which are usually life-threatening. In very rare cases, a vaccine can cause an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can put your body in shock, within 15 minutes of vaccination. While it can be scary, anaphylaxis is non-threatening with prompt treatment. 

The real risk is not from the vaccine but from not receiving the vaccine: Liver cancer and cirrhosis due to hep B can be deadly, and those with chronic Hep B can even develop kidney disease. The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Who Can Get the Hepatitis B Vaccination? 

Doctors advise anyone who wants protection against HBV to get the vaccine, including adults born before 1991 to get the vaccine, anyone under 18 years old, health care workers, sexually active people, and dialysis patients.

If you're not sure about your vaccination status, the WHO recommends getting the vaccine, especially if you have any of the risk factors listed earlier. Be sure to get a Rapid STD Test to if you think you've been exposed. 

You may be one of the 85% of adult Americans at extra risk for hepatitis B if you: 

  • Are diabetic, receiving dialysis, or have HIV or any STD 
  • Have sex or live with someone who has hepatitis B 
  • Have sex with more than one partner 
  • Are a man who has sex with men 
  • Use needle drugs 
  • Come into contact with blood at your job 
  • Are traveling to countries with a high rate of infection 
  • Have hepatitis C or chronic liver disease 
  • Are one of the 60 million Americans born before universal vaccination was instated (1991) 

Doctors recommend a few select groups of people skip the vaccine: Anyone with previous adverse reactions or allergic reaction to yeast, a previous hepatitis injection, or any of the vaccine ingredients. This includes the medication neomycin, which carries contraindications. Pregnant people should not get vaccinated, and those who are moderately sick (or worse) should consult their doctor before receiving the vaccine. 

Know Your Hep B Vaccination Status

It's important to protect yourself against chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer with the hepatitis B vaccine—in fact, almost half of all liver cancers occur due to a chronic hepatitis B infection, and researchers estimate that liver cancer caused 1 in 20 cancer deaths in 2020.

The hepatitis B virus is a silent disease that can affect you for life. While it's easily transmissible through sex, there are plenty of other ways to get it. Protect yourself by knowing your status. Schedule a 10-panel STD test at Rapid STD Testing, or talk to your health care provider about the vaccine. Your liver will thank you!

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By: RSC Editorial Team
December 4, 2022

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