Hepatitis A: Staying Mindful During Summer Travels

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral disease that attacks the liver. It can cause jaundice (yellowing of the skin), body aches and pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and leave you feeling physically weak for weeks – in some cases, even months.

If you’re traveling in regions where hepatitis A outbreaks occur, peel and wash all fresh fruits and vegetables yourself and avoid raw or undercooked meat and fish. Drink bottled water and use it when brushing your teeth. Don’t drink beverages of unknown purity, with or without ice. If bottled water isn’t available, boil tap water before drinking it.

Who’s In Danger?

Traveling first-class may guarantee greater accommodations and service, but it doesn’t mean that you’re protected from disease. The bathrooms may look more sanitary, and the restaurants may serve gourmet cuisine, but if you think staying at a four-star hotel means that you are protected from hepatitis A, you’re wrong. That’s because everyday activities, such as using a restroom or diapering a baby and forgetting to wash your hands afterward can put you at risk. According to the World Health Organization, most cases of hepatitis A in travelers occur in those who stick strictly to staying in the middle – and – upper-level hotels and resorts.

Symptoms

The older you are, the worse you’re going to feel if you get infected with hepatitis A. Hepatitis A signs and symptoms, which typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks, may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

If you have hepatitis A, you may have a mild illness that lasts a few weeks or a severe illness that lasts several months. Not everyone with hepatitis A develops signs or symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of hepatitis A. If you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, having a hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin therapy within two weeks of exposure may protect you from infection. Ask your doctor or your local health department about receiving the hepatitis A vaccine if:

  • You’ve traveled internationally recently, particularly to Mexico or South or Central America, or to areas with poor sanitation
  • A restaurant where you recently ate reports a hepatitis A outbreak
  • Someone close to you, such as someone you live with or your caregiver, is diagnosed with hepatitis A
  • You recently had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A

The symptoms of hepatitis a are more severe in adults than in children. And, as is the case with most viruses, there is no specific treatment or cure once you get infected. The only thing you can do is get a lot of rest. Some people are required to take it easy for up to 6 weeks, which can pose a problem to your boss, co-workers and others who depend on you.

Prevent the Disease.

In order to avoid getting hepatitis A and other illnesses that commonly affect travelers, you have to know how you can get infected in the first place.

  • Do NOT eat food that is handled by someone who has not properly washed his or her hands and is infected with the Hepatitis A virus.
  • Do NOT eat food that comes from contaminated water-shellfish, like mussels, clams or any other types of foods many people enjoy while on vacation.
  • Do NOT eat food that is washed in contaminated water (this means that eating even a seemingly healthful salad can make you sick).
  • You can even get Hepatitis A by unknowingly picking up the virus on your own hands (by shaking hands with someone who is infected, for example) and then transferring it to your mouth. Be sure to wash your hands as often as possible.
  • Drinking contaminated water, or brushing your teeth with it, can put you at risk for illnesses other than Hepatitis A (don’t forget that this also means avoiding ice in your beverages that you drink).

Finally…

You’re most likely to contract hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with someone who’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage. Practicing good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. Vaccines are available for people most at risk. Contact us if you have any questions or to schedule an appointment.

(Some information provided by the Mayo Clinic).

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