The Importance of Immunizations for the GI Patient

Doctor greating patient.

Most people don’t like being poked with a needle, whether for an injection or for a blood draw (though the exception seems to be tattoos!). Once we’ve completed our childhood immunizations, how important is it really to get others?

For many GI patients, it’s very important. Let’s take a look.

For Liver Patients

For patients with liver disease in all stages, completing the immunization series for hepatitis A and hepatitis B is essential. Since both hepatitis A and hepatitis B are viruses which attack the liver, we must make sure someone who has an underlying liver disease is immune.

Hepatitis A

You get hepatitis A by eating food contaminated with the feces of an infected person (yuck!). The most common way for this to spread in developed countries is when someone working in the kitchen doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the restroom. In developing countries, hepatitis A can be spread by poor sanitation facilities (inability to dispose of human waste safely), the use of human feces to fertilize crops for human consumption, and also from improper handwashing practices.

Immunization for hepatitis A has been included as part of routine childhood vaccinations in the United States since 1994. Anyone born prior to that should consider whether they need to be immunized. If you aren’t sure whether you’re immune to hepatitis A, your doctor can order a simple blood test to find out. The vaccination consists of two injections six months apart. There is also a combination hepatitis A/B vaccine available for patients who need both.

Hepatitis B

You can get hepatitis B through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood or semen. Infection can be transmitted during birth from mother to child, by having sex with an infected partner, or by sharing contaminated needles.

While you may not think you have any risk factors, it is important to consider times you may come into contact with another person’s bodily fluids accidentally, such as with a motor vehicle accident. For this reason, we recommend that everyone should be vaccinated, especially liver patients.

Like hepatitis A, the vaccination for hepatitis B has been included as a routine childhood vaccination since 1994. If you aren’t sure whether you’re immune, a simple blood test can tell. The hepatitis B vaccination is a three part series.

For Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients

Since many of the medications for inflammatory bowel disease suppress the immune system, we give IBD patients vaccinations to help them stay well.

Note: You should always let your medical team know what medicines you’re taking. Live vaccinations (those containing live virus, such as the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR) cannot be given to patients who are taking some types of medicines commonly prescribed for IBD. If you aren’t sure, ask your doctor before receiving the vaccine.


An annual flu vaccine is recommended for the general population, not just patients with inflammatory bowel disease. However, a recent study found that IBD patients are more likely to have complications from the flu, so make it a point to get this vaccine yearly as part of your regular health maintenance.

Remember, the flu vaccine is not 100% effective at protecting you from the flu. You should still take regular precautions to avoid illness, like washing your hands often, getting enough rest, and staying away from others who are sick.

Hepatitis B

Yep, the hepatitis B vaccine is important for inflammatory bowel disease patients, too. This is because some of the medications used to treat inflammatory bowel disease can activate latent, or hidden, hepatitis B, which can cause serious liver problems. To avoid this, all IBD patients should receive the full vaccination series.

For Everyone

When most people are vaccinated against a disease, it gives the population something termed herd immunity. This means that because so many have been vaccinated, the disease is not present to spread to someone who can’t get vaccinated for various reasons.

Want to put this into practice? Flu season is coming up and flu vaccines will be out soon. Visit your doctor to make sure you and your family are vaccinated this year.