Hepatitis B is a serious infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The hepatitis B virus can cause life-long infection that leads to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer or liver failure. There is no cure for hepatitis B, but the infection can be prevented by vaccination. Each year, about 200,000 people are infected with the virus and 5,000 die.
Vaccination Recommendations for College Students
A vaccine is available to help protect against hepatitis B. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccination of everyone age 18 and under, and anyone at high risk for hepatitis B. The American College Health Association recommends that all college students be vaccinated. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recommends that all student athletes be vaccinated.
Symptoms of the Disease
Symptoms of hepatitis B can resemble the flu and may include fever, loss of appetite, low energy, joint pain, cramping or nausea and vomiting, as well as jaundice (yellow skin or eyes). However, in about 50 percent of cases, hepatitis B causes no symptoms. Approximately one million people are chronic carriers of the disease, meaning they have no symptoms and may not know they are infected but are still able to transmit the disease to others. There is no cure for hepatitis B. Most people can manage symptoms of the disease with treatment, although 5 to 10 percent of individuals become chronic carriers of the disease.
Incidence of Hepatitis B
Each year, an estimated 200,000 Americans are infected with hepatitis B. The majority of these are adolescents and young adults. One in 20 people now has or will someday contract this disease, and about one-third of those infected do not know the source of their infection.
Transmission of the Disease
Hepatitis B is contagious and spreads when the blood or other body fluids of a person with the virus are absorbed into an individualâ€™s blood stream through broken skin or mucous membranes. The hepatitis B virus can live in all body fluids of an infected person, including blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. It can enter the body through cuts, tears or abrasions in the skin and through mucous membranes of the mouth, vagina, anus and eyes. Hepatitis B can be transmitted through sexual contact; during contact sports; by helping someone who is injured; by sharing razors, toothbrushes, pierced earrings or injection drug paraphernalia; or by getting a tattoo or body piercing using non-sterile instruments or needles.
Risk Factors for Hepatitis B
Anyone who comes in contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person is at risk for hepatitis B. Certain behaviors can increase the risk, including unprotected sex (vaginal, anal and oral); contact sports (sports during which players may be exposed to each otherâ€™s blood or saliva); getting a tattoo or body piercing; sharing items such as razors, earrings and toothbrushes; sharing injection drug paraphernalia; traveling abroad to areas where the disease is widespread; health care and public safety work (or other occupations that may involve exposure to infected blood or body fluids); helping someone who is bleeding; household contact with persons with chronic hepatitis virus infection; and chronic kidney dialysis.
Risk for College Students
College students may be at higher risk for hepatitis B. Approximately 75 percent of all reported hepatitis B cases occur in individuals between the ages of 15 and 39. Living in close quarters, like a college dormitory, may increase the risk of exposure to carriers. College students may be exposed to the virus during sexual contact, getting body piercings or tattoos, sharing needles or razors, during contact sports and other high-risk behaviors. Health sciences students may be exposed to body fluids or tissues from patients with hepatitis B infection. In addition, during college, students may travel abroad to areas where the disease is common.
About the Hepatitis B Vaccine
The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective. You cannot get the disease from 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. After that, a booster shot is not necessary. The vaccine protects 96 percent of those who complete the three-dose vaccination series.
Is the Vaccine Available on Campus?
The Hepatitis B vaccine is available in UHS. All students interested in the vaccine will be required to sign an informed consent to receive the vaccine. Students less than 18 years of age must have the signed consent of a parent or legal guardian. The cost of the vaccine series is $120, or $40 per injection. Interested students should call 985.493.2600 or visit University Health Services to schedule an appointment. After they receive the vaccine, students must pay at the controller’s office.
Other Forms of Prevention
In addition to vaccination, people can modify their behavior by using condoms during sex and avoiding tattooing and body piercing with non-sterile instruments or techniques. They also can avoid sharing needles, pierced earrings, razors or toothbrushes.
For More Information
To learn more about hepatitis B and the vaccine, please contact your physician or visit University Health Services, Betsy Cheramie-Ayo Hall, or call UHS at 985.493.2600. For general information about hepatitis B among college students, visit the Web sites of the and the
The American College Health Association
The American College Health Association, founded in 1920, is a national nonprofit organization serving and representing the interests of professionals and students in health and higher education. Its mission is to be the principal advocate and leadership organization for college and university health. The association provides advocacy, education and services for its members to enhance their ability to improve the health of all students and the campus community.