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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Avoiding Hepatitis When You Travel

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Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation in the liver. Approximately 42,000 new cases of hepatitis A, 56,000 new cases of hepatitis B, and 20,000 new cases of hepatitis C occur each year in the U.S. How can you avoid hepatitis when you travel abroad? Here's advice from Johns Hopkins.

Hepatitis B and C are spread by exposure to infected blood or sexual contact with an infected person, so the risk is of contracting hepatitis when you travel is low. The exception is in countries with intermediate or high rates of chronic hepatitis B and C, where travelers should be cautious about contaminated injections and healthcare equipment, blood transfusions, and unprotected sex.

Hepatitis A is the greater threat, since it is spread through the saliva and feces of an infected person -- meaning that food and water can easily become contaminated. The risk is very low in North America (except Mexico), Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe -- the same as if you were traveling within the United States -- but much higher in Africa, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. (Look up your destination at wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationlist.aspx.)

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but the hepatitis A and B vaccines are recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to countries at intermediate or high risk. You should receive two or three shots starting as soon as travel is considered. And while traveling to higher-risk countries, be sure to avoid beverages that aren’t sealed or boiled, ice cubes, uncooked shellfish, and fruits or vegetables that you haven’t peeled or prepared yourself.

If you do get sick with hepatitis or another disease while you're out of the country, you can obtain lists of local clinics where English is spoken by:

  • Contacting the local U.S. embassy
  • Visiting the International Society of Travel Medicine website (www.istm.org) or the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers website (www.iamat.org).

You may want to check these sites before you travel and print out the contact information for clinics in the countries you’re planning to visit. You also may wish to purchase travel health insurance. Your usual health insurance won’t cover airlifting to a medical facility if you become very ill or get injured while traveling outside of the United States. For information on policies, visit www.insuremytrip.com.

Posted in Healthy Living on July 21, 2008

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Disclaimer

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The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

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