Risk of exposure to hepatitis B and other blood-borne viruses among Australians who travel abroad

Catherine L Streeton, Nicholas Zwar
Journal of Travel Medicine 2006, 13 (6): 345-50

BACKGROUND: European studies indicate that up to 67% of travelers traveling abroad participate in activities that put them at risk of exposure to hepatitis B. Australians are increasingly traveling to destinations where hepatitis B is highly endemic, such as Asia, and are likely to have similar levels of involvement in activities with an associated risk of hepatitis B exposure.

METHOD: A series of annual telephone surveys of approximately 500 randomly selected Australian overseas travelers have been conducted under the auspice of the Travel Health Advisory Group over the years 2001 to 2003. The surveys examined the extent to which travelers seek pretravel health advice, what immunizations they receive and what risks they are exposed to during travel including the risk of hepatitis B and other blood-borne virus acquisition.

RESULTS: In the 2003 survey, 281 (56%) of the 503 people interviewed had visited at least one country with high or medium hepatitis B endemicity on their most recent overseas trip in the past two years. Approximately a third of travelers undertook one or more activities that were considered to be associated with increased risk of potential hepatitis B exposure. Less than half the travelers (46%) had been vaccinated against hepatitis B.

CONCLUSIONS: The results have implications for the individual traveler, as well as to the broader community. Infected travelers can be an important source of hepatitis B into their own home communities. Improved advice and clear recommendations for hepatitis B vaccination are needed to avoid infection.

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