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Prevent liver damage with the hepatitis B vaccine

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Feb. 24, 2022—You've probably heard how important it is to stay up-to-date on vaccinations, even as an adult. Adult vaccines can protect you from diseases such as the flu, shingles and tetanus. Now there's a new addition to the list of adult vaccines: hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B vaccines are now recommended for all adults ages 19 to 59, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Wondering what that means for you? Here are some answers to common questions.

What changed?

Babies and children have been vaccinated against hepatitis B for decades. But until now, the recommendations only included adults ages 19 to 59 if they were at increased risk for infection or complications.

Now, CDC has expanded that recommendation to include all adults 19 to 59, regardless of risk factors. The new recommendations say adults ages 60 and above can also benefit from the shots, especially if they are at risk.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Some people have no symptoms. For others, acute hepatitis B can cause symptoms that last for a few weeks or as long as six months, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Those might include:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Clay-colored bowel movements.
  • Joint pain.
  • Jaundice, a yellow color in the skin or eyes.

In some people, the hepatitis B virus stays in the body long-term. That's known as chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health problems, such as:

  • Liver damage.
  • Liver failure.
  • Liver cancer.

Chronic hepatitis B is not the only long-term risk. If you've had hepatitis B once, the virus can reactivate later in life, says the NIDDK. That can cause liver damage. You might be at risk for reactivated hepatitis B if you have chemotherapy for cancer or if you take medications that affect your immune system.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The hepatitis B vaccine is not new. And it does not contain live hepatitis B virus. According to the NIDDK, it has been recommended for children in the United States since 1991. CDC reports that the most common side effect is soreness at the injection site.

Not sure whether or not you've been vaccinated before? Ask your healthcare provider for advice. But CDC says that extra doses of the hepatitis B vaccine are safe.

Love your liver

Talk to your healthcare provider to get up-to-date on this important vaccination—and ask about your risk for other types of hepatitis, such as hepatitis C.

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