There are 5 known types of Hepatitis disease. Most travelers are familiar with Hepatitis A & B, the only 2 which are vaccine-preventable…. but what do we know about the others and can we get them during travel?
Hepatitis C is acquired by blood to blood and body fluid contact with an infected person or instrument such as needles shared by drug users. Travelers who use tattoo/piercing facilities, receive blood transfusions or organ transplants from poorly screened donors, or participate in surgical procedures overseas may be at risk. Usually there are no symptoms, it is lifelong and can result in death. The baby-boomer generation is most at risk along with anyone who may have received a blood transfusion prior to the 1990′s. A blood test can confirm that a person has acquired Hepatitis C. There is treatment available.
Hepatitis D can only occur if a person already has Hepatitis B. Open wounds, blood and bodily fluid exchange with an infected person can result in acute or chronic Hepatitis D for which there is NO treatment.
Hepatitis E is an uncommon virus in the United States. Water contaminated with feces can be common in Africa, Central America, South America and parts of Asia and the Middle East. Hep E can be extremely serious for pregnant women and there is NO treatment. Travelers should take care to avoid water from unknown sources. Drinking only bottled water, boiling or use of chlorinated tablets is the only way to avoid Hep E.
Hepatitis A is prevalent all over the world. Prior to the vaccine being available in the 1990′s, it was a very common illness acquired during travel outside the US. Mild to severe symptoms can occur following ingestion of food or drink contaminated with feces of an infected person. Never assume that other nations have the same strict food handling standards as we do in the US. Eat well cooked foods, stay away from raw salad and seafood unless sure of the source. Drink bottled water. Heat can destroy the virus, freezing does not!
Hepatitis B Since the introduction of the vaccine in the early 1990′s, there has been an 82% decrease in reported hepatitis B infections in the US. Remarkable! Globally, about 2 billion have Hep B. Most have chronic infection, are carriers and many have died as Hep B can lead to cirrhosis and death. Travelers are at high risk. There may be NO “standard precautions” in facilities outside the US. Contact with blood and body fluids during sex, medical procedures using contaminated instruments during medical tourism, dental procedures you didn’t expect or accidents in which you are hospitalized and may possibly face blood transfusion from unknown resources. You cannot tell by looking at someone they carry the Hep B virus, therefore BE PREPARED-GET VACCINATED!