A guide to the vaccines travelers may need to have.
Similar to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A is a disease that affects the liver (hepar being Greek for liver), and is the most common of the five different hepatitis viruses classified by doctors (vaccines currently only exist for Hepatitis A, B, and E).
Unlike Hep B, however, there’s no threat of the Hepatitis A virus becoming chronic, and those who become infected are usually up and running again within two months. If symptoms occur at all — and for many patients, particularly children, there are none — they typically include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and jaundice, which will appear 2 to 6 weeks after exposure.
Preventing Hepatitis A
As a highly contagious disease, Hepatitis A is transmitted through food or water contaminated by the feces of someone infected with virus.
When dealing with Hep A, good public hygiene and sanitation practices are of the utmost importance; some would argue as effective as the vaccine itself).
Food must be properly cooked, and water boiled, in order to kill off any harmful bacteria. (If food is contaminated after being cooked, however, the risk is still present.) Furthermore, regular hand-washing before and after touching food helps ensure the virus doesn’t spread.
Hep A is found throughout the world, though infection rates are higher in areas with poor sanitation or limited access to clean drinking water. Hence, travelers to parts of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, and even rural sections of Eastern Europe should be on the lookout.
As the CDC reports: “The risk for Hepatitis A exists even for travelers to urban areas, those who stay in luxury hotels, and those who report...good hygiene.”
The Hepatitis A Vaccine
This vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and can be received by children as young as 1 year old. Plan on contacting your doctor or public health center six to eight months before a planned trip in order to receive the vaccine in time for it to take effect.
The Hep A vaccine is covered by most private insurance plans, and there is rarely a separate copay. It is not required for entry into any specific countries.