Whether you’re traveling abroad this summer, or just taking a trip to the nearest beach or theme park, you absolutely want to have the best trip possible. However, getting sick while you’re on vacation can not only spoil your trip, it also could have long-term health consequences. Of course, if you’re traveling overseas, certain countries will require you to have specific vaccinations before you can visit, but that doesn’t mean you only should be vaccinated for specific trips. Diseases such as Hepatitis A can find you just about anywhere, including right in your own backyard.
“Hepatitis A is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver,” said Blount Memorial Hospital’s senior infection control coordinator Ann Henry. “It usually is mild, but in some cases, it can cause severe damage to a person’s liver. You can get Hepatitis A by eating, drinking or touching something that has been contaminated with fecal matter. This can happen if a person who has Hepatitis A already fails to properly wash his or her hands after going to the restroom. This is more likely to occur in countries with poor sanitation or personal hygiene. Typically, in the United States, the chlorination of the water will kill Hepatitis A that enters the water supply,” she explained. “The food and drinks that are most likely to be contaminated are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice and water,” she added.
If you do contract Hepatitis A, you’ll likely be sick for several weeks. “Some people, especially children, will show no signs of the illness,” Henry said. “Common symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain and jaundice. These symptoms can occur anywhere between two and six weeks after exposure, and can last anywhere from six weeks to six months,” she explained. “The tricky part is that a person can have Hepatitis A, have no symptoms and still be able to transmit the virus to others,” she added.
For this reason, Henry says, it is important to get a Hepatitis A vaccination. “The Hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective,” she said. “The vaccine is given in two-shot doses, six months apart, and is recommended for all children ages 1 and up, people traveling to a country where there is a higher rate of Hepatitis A, people with chronic liver disease, people who work with the Hepatitis A virus in clinical research laboratories and all health care workers. Even if you’re planning to stay at a luxury resort, if you’re in a country where Hepatitis A is common, you absolutely should be vaccinated prior to your trip. Also, while you’re there, you can reduce your risk for Hepatitis A exposure by avoiding potentially contaminated foods, such as uncooked shellfish, fruits and vegetables,” she explained. “The risk for Hepatitis A also increases with the length of your stay and if you eat or drink in areas with poor sanitation,” she added.
“The Hepatitis A vaccine exists and can absolutely prevent you from contracting the virus. Travelers should plan in advance to get the vaccine and keep themselves safe. The vaccine should be in your bloodstream for about two weeks prior to the start of your trip, so remember to plan early and consult your physician if you have questions or concerns,” Henry explained.