Hepatitis A and B are caused by infection with the hepatitis A and B viruses, respectively. These infections can cause the liver to become inflamed and injured. Your liver plays an important role in your body and you cannot survive without one. The liver helps digest food, store vitamins and minerals, and also breaks down and clears chemicals, as well as other substances, from your body.
Most people who are infected with the hepatitis A virus have mild symptoms or none at all. The vast majority of people recover completely within 6 months. However, it can cause severe liver damage, and even liver failure and death in rare cases.
Hepatitis B infection often goes away by itself and does not cause any symptoms. However in some people it can result in a chronic infection that leads to liver scarring, failure and even cancer.
Am I at risk?
Hepatitis A infections are found all over the world, but are much more common in developing countries. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stools of those infected. A surface commonly becomes contaminated when an infected person touches something after using the washroom without washing their hands. Other people then get infected if they touch the contaminated surface and then their mouth, nose or eyes. It can also be spread to another person if they eat or drink something contaminated with the virus. Travellers to developing countries can get hepatitis A when eating or drinking in places with poor hygienic practices, but can also get it even if they stay in luxury hotels.
The Hepatitis B virus is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids, such as during unprotected sex, sharing of contaminated needles, or contact with infected blood. It can also be spread from a mother to her baby during or shortly after birth. Chronic hepatitis B is very common in Southeast Asia, China, and sub-Saharan Africa, where up to 10% of people are affected.
Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself against hepatitis A and B infections. Vaccination strengthens the immune system against the viruses so that you are less likely to get infected. There are vaccines available for hepatitis A or B alone, as well as a combination of both A and B together. If you’re travelling to areas where these infections are common, it is a very good idea to get vaccinated. Your health care professional will decide which one is best for you.
It is important to know that one shot is not enough. Vaccination against hepatitis A and hepatitis B requires 2 to 3 injections to be fully protected. It is very important to get your vaccinations according to the schedule set by your health care provider.
We know that with your busy life it can be hard to find the time for vaccination. We can help. Our pharmacists undergo injection training to provide a convenient vaccination experience – no appointment needed.*
Additionally, good hand hygiene and safe food preparation are very important in preventing hepatitis A infection. To protect against hepatitis B infection, practise safe sex, don’t share toiletries such as razors or toothbrushes, and never share needles.
*Applicable vaccines and costs vary by province. Prescription may be required. Professional fees may apply.