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revised April 01, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis B

WHAT IS HEPATITIS B?

  • Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver. 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). Less than one per cent of the severely ill will die. Most people recover completely and are protected from future infections of Hepatitis B. If you are infected with hepatitis B (whether you are ill or not), you can pass the virus to other people.

    About 6-10 per cent of adults 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.

Advice for Hep B Carriers

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HOW IS HEPATITIS B SPREAD?

  • The virus is spread to other people by sexual contact and contact with blood and certain body fluids. Hepatitis B is not spread by coughing or sneezing, by water, food or casual contact. Blood must enter a break in the skin or be absorbed through the mucous membrane (e.g. eyes, mouth). The virus can be passed onto others during the initial infection period or by a person who is a chronic carrier. A mother who is carrying the hepatitis B virus can pass it to her baby during childbirth. The two most common ways of spreading hepatitis B in Canada are sexual activity and IV drug use.

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WHY IS THE VACCINE IMPORTANT?

  • Antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial infections only. Because hepatitis B is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not work. The hepatitis B vaccine protects individuals against the hepatitis B virus. The virus causes about 80% of all cancers of the liver and can damage the liver forever. It is important for students to receive the hepatitis B vaccine now, before they engage in high risk behaviours.

    Hepatitis B Immunization is also beneficial for students who may be at greater risk to exposure to the Hepatitis B virus later in life as a result of working in certain conditions.

    Occupations which pose a higher risk of exposure to the Hepatitis B virus includes:

    • first aid providers
    • lifeguards
    • doctors
    • nurses
    • health care workers
    • dentists
    • police
    • firefighters
    • any occupation involving contact with blood

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HOW IS THE VACCINE ADMINISTERED?

  • The hepatitis B vaccine schedule offered at school clinics involves two separate injections given four to six months apart during the school year. Vaccination for hepatitis B is voluntary and both injections are needed to be fully protected. Normally the cost of two injections, if purchased from the pharmacy and given by your doctor, would be about $100. The hepatitis B vaccine can be given in a two or three dose series.

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HOW TO PREVENT HEPATITIS B?

  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine! A nurse gives the vaccine by injection two times during the school year. Both injections must be received to be fully protected.

Other ways to reduce the risk of becoming infected are:

    • Practice safer sex. Use condoms every time. Limit number of partners or abstain from having sex.
    • Never share needles and syringes.
    • Never share toothbrushes, razors, nail files or other personal items that may have tiny amounts of blood on them. (The virus lives in dry blood for up to seven days).
    • For activities that cut the skin, such as tattooing or ear/body piercing, be sure the equipment is sterilized.

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DO STUDENTS HAVE TO GET THE VACCINE?

  • No. Hepatitis B immunization is voluntary and is not a requirement to attend school.

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WHERE CAN I GET A CONSENT FORM?

  • Students will be given a consent form and information prior to the immunization clinic date at their school.


Over 90 per cent of Peel students, in Grade seven, receive the vaccine annually. As part of a long-term strategy to control the spread of hepatitis B, Peel Health will continue to provide free hepatitis B vaccination to all Grade seven students through school-based clinics.

For more information, call Peel Health at: 905-799-7700.

Caledon residents can call, free of charge, 905-584-2216.

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Revised: April 01, 2010

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