Hepatitis A - Do I need a vaccine?
Hepatitis A is endemic (present all the time) in many poorer parts of the world, especially where there is a low standard of food and water hygiene. These areas include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, parts of the Far East (except Japan), South and Central America and the Middle East.
There are about 1.5 million cases of hep A reported each year and the death rate is about 2% in those over 50 years of age.
How do I get hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is acquired through food or water that is contaminated by infected human faeces; this method is called the faecal-oral route of infection. It is spread by drinking contaminated water or eating food that has been washed in it.
Some sexual practices that increase faecal-oral transmission can also increase the risk of catching hepatitis A.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is often subclinical (the patient doesn’t show outward symptoms) in young children but is more serious in older travellers (age 50+).
The incubation period (time from infection to showing symptoms) is 15-50 days. After this, symptoms such as malaise, anorexia and fever occur, and then jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Recovery takes about a month in younger people but you could be ill for many weeks.
Because hepatitis A is a disease affecting the liver, complications are more likely if you already a have liver condition.
There is no anti-viral treatment for hepatitis A and doctors can only offer supportive measures to relieve symptoms.
How do I prevent hepatitis A?
There are several highly effective hepatitis A vaccines available and you should discuss your need for vaccination with your travel health expert. The vaccination schedule is here.
Your risk will depend on
- your food, water and personal hygiene while you’re in the risk area,
- your length of stay
- your vaccination status.
Vaccination is recommended for
- travellers who are visiting friends and relatives in an endemic country
- those with liver problems or haemophilia
- travellers whose sexual practices put them at greater risk. There is a higher incidence in homosexual men
- those with occupational risk – if you’re working with the local population.
Useful travel info:
What are the side effects of the Hep A vaccine?
Hep A vaccination side effects are mild and pass off quickly. They include soreness or redness at the injection site and, less commonly, tiredness, fever, malaise.
More by this Author
IBS can make life miserable. Here are 2 ways to better control of your symptoms.
There are a lot of theories about what helps people sleep better and all sorts of claims for all sorts of products. Green tea and vitamin D are 2 of those products. So what's the evidence?
Which is better - Sleep Number or Comfortaire? They're both leaders in their field but also direct competitors. Here's a head-to-head of the 2 brands.