In a recent GSK survey of UK-based travellers to India and Pakistan, just 39% had sought travel health advice from their GP or travel clinic before their last trip, with 38% citing the fact that they were staying with friends and relatives as the main reason why they did not consider the need to do so. Over half (53%) of respondents admitted that they didn’t know how Hepatitis B is caught and over a third (39%) didn’t know how they could prevent themselves from contracting the disease.
As more than three million Muslims from around the World prepare to travel for Hajj pilgrimage in October , and with almost half of all UK visitors to India and Pakistan last year travelling with the purpose of visiting friends and relatives , the B-Aware campaign, launched this month by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and supported by the British Liver Trust, aims to educate these communities about the risk of Hepatitis B and ways to reduce their risk when travelling.
Andrew Langford, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust says: “Hepatitis B is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease which is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. It is passed on to others from blood or body fluids of a person who has the virus, and not everyone who has the virus is ill or is aware that they could infect someone else. Even a tiny speck of dried blood from an infected person can be all it takes to pass on the virus. People visiting friends and relatives overseas, or traveling for pilgrimage, are urged to consider the risks and to seek travel health advice from their GP or travel clinic at least a month before travel.”
Those visiting friends and relatives overseas may perceive that they are not at risk of disease because they will be staying in familiar surroundings, however, in reality, these travellers tend to stay abroad for longer and live as part of the local community, and are therefore more likely to come across situations that could increase their likelihood of exposure to infectious diseases .
While contaminated medical equipment (especially needles) is a common way that the Hepatitis B virus is passed on, there are also many seemingly harmless ways that the infection can be spread such as sharing objects like razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or earrings , , . B-Aware advises travellers not share personal or intimate belongings like these when visiting a country where Hepatitis B is more common than the UK, to avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids, to seek travel health advice before they go, and if possible, to carry a sterile medical kit.
Peter Basile, Medical Advisor at GSK says: “The B-Aware campaign will run across Indian and Pakistani media channels and information will be distributed through local GP surgeries, pharmacies, travel agents and places of worship in 25 key regions of the UK, as well as at the London mela in September. The aim is to increase awareness and understanding of the risks of Hepatitis B when travelling and to encourage people to consider visiting their GP or travel clinic for health advice prior to travel.”
A campaign website www.b-aware.co.uk and mobile phone app have also been developed to offer further support to travellers with a risk indicator tool that enables them to check out their travel risk.