Travel Medicine (cont.)

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Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects the liver. People get sick two to six weeks after they get the virus. Symptoms include nausea, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, pale stools, loss of appetite, and fatigue. The symptoms take two to six months to completely resolve. Unlike some other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease. In other words, once the person gets better, he or she is completely cured. Some infected people (especially children) are asymptomatic, meaning that they do not develop symptoms.

Hepatitis A is spread when human waste is mistakenly ingested. Even a small amount can cause disease, such as might occur by shaking hands with someone with contaminated hands and then touching the mouth. Food preparers have transmitted disease by mistakenly contaminating food. It is also possible to get hepatitis A through sexual contact or contaminated needles or blood. Hepatitis A occurs throughout the world but is more common in developing countries.

There is an effective vaccine that is quite good at preventing hepatitis A. If you are traveling to a developing country, your doctor will probably recommend vaccination. In a few cases, if you will be traveling before the vaccine has time to take effect, your doctor might recommend a more temporary measure called gamma globulin instead of or in addition to the vaccine. Remember to follow food and water precautions (see "What is safe to eat and drink while traveling?"). The vaccine also requires a second dose six to 12 months later for full protection (or two or three more doses if combined with hepatitis B vaccine), so you will to follow up with your doctor after coming home. However, hepatitis A vaccine is protective for at least 25 years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/19/2015

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