The easiest way to protect against hepatitis A and B is by vaccination. As a matter of fact, hepatitis A and B are the only STDs which are vaccine-preventable. The vaccine is safe and effective, and often covered by insurance.
There are individual vaccines against hepatitis A (two shots, six to twelve months apart) and hepatitis B (three shots during a six-month period). There's also a new combination vaccination which protects against both hepatitis A and B (three shots during a six month period). There is no vaccine against hepatitis C.
Is the vaccine safe? Are there any side effects?
All hepatitis vaccines have been proven safe and effective, with millions of doses administered worldwide. The vaccines themselves do not contain live virus, and cannot infect you with hepatitis. Side effects may include soreness at the injection site, headache and fatigue. Side effects rarely last longer than 24 hours.
Are the hepatitis vaccines effective?
The hepatitis vaccines are almost completely effective, if you receive all of your shots on the right schedule.
What if I've already had hepatitis?
If you've had hepatitis A or B, or if you've been vaccinated, you're immune for life against that strain. If you're not sure whether you're already immune, your doctor can perform a simple test. Since hepatitis A and B are caused by different viruses, immunity against one does not give you immunity against the other. There are no negative side effects from vaccination if you're already immune.
The hepatitis vaccines are widely available, and many physicians stock them. You can ask your doctor about vaccination the next time you have a regular visit, or you can call and make a special appointment. If you don't have a regular physician, or you feel uncomfortable asking your physician for the hepatitis vaccination, you can contact a local LGBT health clinic or STD clinic, where vaccination is often given at a reduced cost. The hepatitis vaccines are also available at most travel health clinics.
Will insurance cover my vaccination?
Insurance coverage varies from carrier to carrier and plan to plan, although reimbursement for hepatitis A and B vaccinations for gay and bisexual men is relatively good. GlaxoSmithKline, one of the companies that distributes hepatitis vaccines, offers a free Reimbursement Helpline. You can call 888-VACCRIX to check your coverage.
The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has a free Health Care Referrals service for gay-friendly physicians.
Other protective measures against hepatitis A include avoiding anal/oral sex (rimming) and, for travelers, drinking only bottled or purified water and eating only food which has been fully cooked. Protective measures against hepatitis B and C include wearing a condom during sex, avoiding shared needles, bullets and other drug paraphernalia.
What if I'm HIV-positive? >>