While the risk of contracting Hepatitis is relatively low in the developed world, travelers planning to visit non-urban locations in developing countries are at a higher risk of being infected. This is especially true for areas where sanitation is poor and where hepatitis is prevalent.
There are three types of hepatitis – Hepatitis A, B and C. Hepatitis A is contracted through fecal-oral contact. In other words, a person can get infected by consuming foods or beverages that are contaminated with virus-laden feces. They can also contract it through close personal contact with someone who is already infected with Hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B and C are spread through infected blood and contact. Hepatitis B can also be contracted through body fluids. Thus, a person may become infected with Hepatitis B or C through sexual contact with a person already infected with one or the other. It can also be contracted if personal items of an infected person such as razors, nail trimmers etc. are used. Additionally, people can become infected with Hepatitis B or C during blood transfusion (in case the donor was not screened for hepatitis) or through the use of dirty hypodermic needles.
While a person infected with Hepatitis A can fully recover within a few weeks or months, Hepatitis B and C can lead to further complications including cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and even death. It is thus imperative to minimize the risk of infection when traveling. This can be achieved by taking the following few steps:
- • Always make sure you get vaccinated before you travel. There are many effective vaccines available for Hepatitis A and B. Melissa Palmer, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, “anyone who travels aboard frequently should probably be vaccinated.”
- • It is always a good idea to know your risks with respect to the destination you are traveling to. While regions such as
- , Japan and Western
- are fairly safe with respect to this disease, you need to be extra vigilant if you plan to travel to developing regions such as
- , Sub-Saharan
- , Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
- • Always keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with warm soapy water or by using a hand sanitizer.
- • Avoid uncooked food in areas that have sanitation issues.
- • Avoid tap water in areas with poor sanitation and only drink bottled water. Use bottled water to wash fruits and vegetables.
- • Hepatitis A, B and C can all be transmitted through sexual contact thus avoid sexual contact with partners from areas where Hepatitis is prevalent, unless you are aware of that person’s medical history. Use condoms if you do engage in sexual activity and avoid oral-anal contact.