According to the CDC and other medical sources, the hepatitis A virus is the most common vaccine-preventable infection picked up by travelers from the U.S. Transmission occurs through direct person-to-person contact, through exposure to contaminated water or ice, or through shellfish harvested from or washed in contaminated water. Hepatitis A can also be contracted by eating uncooked fruits or vegetables washed in contaminated water or handled by those with poor hygiene.
Hepatitis A can be difficult to recognize and diagnose, so it’s important to be clear with your doctor about where you’ve traveled recently. The virus reaches peak levels between 1 and 2 weeks before the onset of symptoms, but a few people (primarily very young children) remain asymptomatic. Symptoms for everyone else vary, but are generally described as much like having a severe case of the flu with fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, fever and poor appetite.
A few people, most notably the elderly or those with a pre-existing liver disease, are at risk of experiencing severe symptoms of acute hepatitis, which may attack their liver and require a transplant. These cases are rare.
The risk factors for contracting hepatitis A include:
While military personnel, hospital and volunteer workers, as well as laboratory workers who handle live hepatitis A or animals infected with hepatitis A for the purposes of study are typically automatically vaccinated, most Americans are not simply because the disease currently has very little hold in the U.S.
The following people, however, are good candidates for receiving the hepatitis A vaccine:
The best prevention for avoiding hepatitis A is practicing good hygiene, avoiding uncooked or undercooked shellfish, avoiding unpeeled fruits and vegetables, and getting a vaccine before you travel to an area of risk.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.