Hepatitis B risks and immunisation coverage amongst Australians travelling to southeast Asia and east Asia

Peter A Leggat, Nicholas A Zwar, Bernard J Hudson
Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease 2009, 7 (6): 344-9

BACKGROUND: Southeast Asia and East Asia are regarded as highly endemic regions for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and include many popular destinations for Australian travellers. The objectives of this survey were to evaluate the extent of pre-travel health advice, the prevalence of behaviours with HBV infection risks and the prevalence of HBV vaccination amongst Australian travellers to Southeast Asia and East Asia.

METHODS: In 2004, a telephone survey was conducted amongst Australians, who had travelled overseas to Southeast Asia and East Asia in the past three years for three nights or more.

RESULTS: Three hundred and nine travellers aged 14 years and over completed the interview, including 138 males (45%) and 171 females (55%). Respondents travelled for leisure (64%), business (20%), and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) (16%). The most common destinations were Indonesia (34%), Thailand (32%), and China (27%). About half of the travellers (54%) sought vaccination specific health advice before travel of which about half (56%) had sought this advice more than six weeks before travel. Just over one quarter of travellers reported receiving HBV vaccination (28%) of whom most (70%) were vaccinated at least three weeks before travel. About half of the travellers (49%) had participated in at least one activity with HBV risk during their last overseas trip. Of those travellers aged 18 years and over who either had no HBV vaccination or who were unsure, about half (49%) had participated in at least one activity with HBV risk during their last overseas trip.

CONCLUSIONS: Australian travellers to Southeast Asia and East Asia commonly undertake activities with a risk of exposure to HBV. Hepatitis B vaccination coverage amongst this group remains low. It is important that travellers to this region seek travel health advice from a qualified source, which will include a risk assessment for hepatitis B vaccination.

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