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Everything You Need to Know about Hepatitis A as a Traveler

hepatitis A information for travelers

Of all the strains, hepatitis A is the one most likely to effect a traveler abroad. This article will discuss the dangers of hepatitis A and the steps a traveler can take to avoid letting this virus ruin their trip.

Hepatitis is a disease which causes inflammation of the liver. Many people are aware of hepatitis but don’t know much about it. Hepatitis can be contracted many different ways, such as sexual activity, eating undercooked food, and drinking bad water among others. The dangers of hepatitis are real and very relevant to a traveler. Being aware of the different types of the disease, how you can prevent contracting them, and what to do if you do contract hepatitis is important. Below we will be talking about hepatitis A and the steps you should take to stay safe while traveling. Check out my post on Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and my comparison of Hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. This virus can affect anyone and is easily transmitted amongst people. It is one of the most prevalent diseases encountered by travelers. Thankfully, it is vaccine preventable.

Hepatitis A Causes and Transmission Risks

Transmission of the virus can occur via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person; consuming food or drink that has come in contact with the blood or stool of an infected person; eating raw or undercooked shellfish; sexual activity that involves anal contact. The danger of infection is greater for a traveler spending extended time in the developing world. Hepatitis A is endemic in most parts of the world, including Asia (except for Japan), Central America, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Hepatitis A infection is possible even if you are staying in nice hotels and you are only traveling for a short period of time.

Hepatitis A Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis A vary greatly. Some people show no signs of illness, while others have mild, short-lived symptoms. In rare cases it can lead to liver failure and death. Those at greatest risk are people with pre-existing liver conditions. Most symptoms do not appear until 2-6 weeks after infection. Depending on the severity, symptoms can last 1-2 weeks or several months.
Common Symptoms include:

  • Dark Urine
  • Fatigue/malaise
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the white of the eyes)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. It is recommended that you see a doctor if you believe that you may have contracted hepatitis. The best course of action is to get lots of rest while the symptoms are most severe. It is also best to avoid any drugs that cause damage to the liver (such as tylenol) as well as staying away from alcohol. As stated before, most cases last a couple of weeks. The virus does not remain in the body after infection and it gives life long immunity after the symptoms have subsided.

Prevention Tips for Travelers

The two best ways to prevent getting hepatitis A are to get vaccinated and travel smart. There is a vaccination for hepatitis A which is very effective. The vaccine’s first dose is 54%-62% affective after the first two weeks and becomes 94%-100% effective after four weeks. This vaccine is effective for one year. There is a second booster shot that can be taken six to twelve months later which increases the length of protection to 20 years.
Aside from the vaccine, it is important to be safe with your food, water and activities while abroad. Here are a few helpful tips for keeping yourself healthy while traveling in areas where hepatitis A is prevalent.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water as often as you can, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Hand sanitizers are useful but do not replace the quality of washing hands in soap and hot water.
  • Don’t eat peeled fruit or vegetables unless they are cooked. A general rule of thumb is always to peel your own vegetables and fruits. It is possible that they could have been washed in infected water which could lead to transmission.
  • Use only purified/bottled water, with carbonated drinks preferred. Feel free to imbibe in your favorite fizzy beverage and feel comfortable that you will stay infection free.
  • Take caution with dairy products and street food. It looks good, smells good and probably tastes good, but what that means for your body afterwards is a question mark.
  • Brush your teeth with bottled/purified water.
  • Make sure to practice safe sex at all times. Hepatitis is easily passed through blood-to-blood contact.

Using these simple tips will help keep you as safe as possible while traveling abroad. It is important that you speak to a doctor or nurse before heading out on your travels to get any other tips, medications, or vaccines. Whether you are going for a week or a year, it is important to be smart while traveling to make sure that you are able to spend more time on the road and less time lying in bed. Safe travels.

Photo credits: flickr user Cambodia4kidsorg

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