What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A virus can cause liver disease. Hepatitis A virus is found in the stool (poop) and blood of infected people. People infected with hepatitis A virus can spread it to others.
You can be infected with hepatitis A virus if you
- Eat food or drink beverages contaminated with hepatitis A virus
- Touch objects with the virus on it and then put your hands in your mouth
- Have close, personal contact with an infected person, such as caring for them
- Have sex with an infected person
Symptoms can appear quickly and may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Most older children and adults who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but usually recover and do not have lasting liver damage. Children younger than age six usually do not have symptoms.
In rare cases, hepatitis A virus can cause liver failure and death. This is more common in older people and people with existing liver diseases.
Who is at risk?
Hepatitis A is a common disease in countries throughout the world. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or had hepatitis A infection before can get infected.
Travelers are more likely to get infected with hepatitis A if they visit rural areas, travel in backcountry areas, or frequently eat or drink in settings of poor sanitation. However, even travelers who stay in urban areas, resorts, or luxury hotels, who wash their hands regularly, and who choose food and drinks carefully have been infected when visiting countries where hepatitis A is common.
What can travelers do to prevent hepatitis A?
Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against hepatitis A. The hepatitis A vaccine is very effective and has been a routine childhood vaccine since 1996. The vaccine is recommended for international travelers 6 months of age or older going to countries where hepatitis A infection is common. Check if hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for your destination.
Hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses. If your plans don’t allow you to get all doses before your trip, get at least 1 dose, as soon as possible before you travel.
Infants 6 to 11 months old should be vaccinated when protection against hepatitis A is recommended for the destination. This dose does not count toward the routine 2-dose series.
Travelers allergic to a vaccine component or 6 months of age or younger should receive a single dose of immune globulin, which provides effective protection for up to 2 months depending on dosage given. Talk to your doctor to see if this is the best option for you.
Additional protection against hepatitis B can be given using the combination hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine, usually given in 3 doses. If your trip is soon, talk to your doctor about accelerated dosing of the combination hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine.