Hepatitis A is viral disease which is frequently found throughout the developing world and tropical areas. It is spread by poor hygiene from person to person, or by contaminated water, ice, or shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water, or from fruits, vegetable or other foods which are eaten uncooked, which may be become contaminated during handling.
The symptoms of infection are loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal discomfort, followed within a few days by jaundice. The course of illness is usually mild, with an almost 100% recovery after 2-4 weeks or hospitalisation.
The incidence of Hepatitis A is quoted at 3/100 per month in tropical or developing countries. Obviously, this risk increases with decreasing hygiene and increased risky eating habits.
During travel, the risk will increase for those who live in or visit rural areas, trek in outback country areas, or frequently eat or drink in settings of poor sanitation. Nevertheless, many cases of travel-related Hepatitis A occur in travellers to developing countries with “standard” tourist itineraries accommodation, and food consumption behaviour.
All travellers should minimise their risk of contracting Hepatitis A by avoiding potentially contaminated water or food.
Travellers over the age of 1 visiting a highly endemic area should be vaccinated with Hepatitis A vaccine. A single vaccine will give protection up to 1 year. A booster dose at 6-12 months will prolong the protective levels to 10-20 years. The vaccine is very safe, and highly effective in the long term.