(BPT) - Did you know that hepatitis A infections are on the rise in the United States? Almost half of new infections are among Americans traveling abroad after eating contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is common in many parts of the world, including in popular tourist destinations in Central and South America. Fortunately, hepatitis A can be easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The infection can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe disease lasting several months. In severe cases, people can die from hepatitis A. Symptoms can include one or more of the following: nausea, vomiting, fever, yellow eyes or skin, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain or fatigue.
How is hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person. In countries where hepatitis A is common, the virus can be easily spread from two major ways:
* When an infected person does not thoroughly wash his/her hands and then touches objects or food
* When unclean water sources are used for consumption or food preparation.
Unfortunately, food can become contaminated at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling and even after cooking. Regardless of where travelers eat or stay - even at high-end resorts - it is still possible to get infected with the hepatitis A virus.
Who's at risk?
All travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common are at risk for getting infected if they have never been vaccinated. Check this list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveler's health website (www.cdc.gov/travel) or talk to your health care provider to find out if the vaccine is recommended for your destination.
What can you do to protect yourself from hepatitis A?
Get vaccinated.The CDC recommends all travelers to regions where hepatitis A is common get vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective, and is the best way to prevent infection with the virus. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given in two doses, 6 months apart, in order to give a person long-term protection against the virus. Even if you are unable to get both shots before you travel, one dose is better - and safer - than traveling unvaccinated. The first dose of vaccine should be administered as soon as travel is considered - 2 weeks or more before departure if possible. However, one dose of vaccine administered at any time before departure can provide adequate protection for mostly healthy persons.
Where can I get the hepatitis A vaccine?
Vaccinations are available at many doctors' offices, as well as at travel clinics. Check if your health plan will cover travel related vaccines - not all plans will. Low cost vaccination may be obtained at certain pharmacies or your local health department. So before you travel abroad, consider getting this form of travel insurance!
Learn more about hepatitis A and other CDC travel-related vaccine recommendations here.