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Hepatitis A is a viral infection spread through contaminated food and water, which causes inflammation of the liver. According to the World Health Organisation, there are an estimated 1.5 million new cases of illness due to Hepatitis A each year worldwide.
Countries at risk
Hepatitis A occurs worldwide but is most commonly found in parts of Africa, Asia (see Central, South East and East), Central and South America, and it is most prevalent in areas with poor sanitation.
For most travellers, exposure to Hepatitis A comes from eating contaminated food or water. Contamination can also be passed from person to person via poor hygiene.
When travelling only drink water either from a sealed bottle or a source that you are sure has been treated by filtration tablets or boiling. Avoid ice from unknown water sources. Avoid uncooked food and only eat fruit that can be peeled. Ensure that food is freshly cooked and served hot. Use common sense around personal hygiene and hand washing.
Signs and symptoms
It can take up to two weeks for any signs or symptoms develop and the severity of the virus ranges; in young children, infection may show mild or no symptoms, but it can be a serious illness in older people. Common signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A include: fever, muscular aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss, abdominal pain and yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes.
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. Travellers to areas at risk may be recommended one of the following vaccination courses:
- A single course injection of Havrix Monodose to cover against Hepatitis A
- A course of three injections of Twinrix to cover against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
- A single dose of Hepatyrix to cover against Hepatitis A and Typhoid fever
A single injection followed by a booster can provide long-term protection. Ideally, travellers need to be vaccinated at least two weeks before travel. The initial injection will offer short-term protection for a single trip, while a booster will provide long-term cover and should preferably be taken within 6-12 months of the first vaccine.