Hepatitis A Vaccination
Hepatitis A is inflammation (swelling) of your liver. Hepatitis A is an acute disease and can become more serious as you get older, have poor immunity or if you already have liver disease.
Hepatitis A is usually found in the faeces of an infected person and it spreads between people via contaminated food and water. The infection is easily spread in overcrowded areas where there is poor food and water hygiene. You’re at higher risk of catching hepatitis A if you travel to countries where the condition is common and can spread easily within families and where people live closely together.
Hepatitis A has an incubation period of about two to six weeks. The incubation period is the time from being exposed to the virus to the start of your symptoms. However, some people have very mild symptoms and may not know they are infected. They are still infectious and can unknowingly pass on the disease to others. If you do have symptoms, they may be similar to those of flu and include:
fever tiredness aching limbs feeling sick and vomiting stomach ache and/or diarrhoea intolerance to alcohol headaches
You may also develop jaundice, which makes your skin and the whites of your eyes go yellow. This is caused by a yellow-coloured substance in your blood called bilirubin. Bilirubin is usually broken down by your liver, but this doesn’t happen if your liver is affected by hepatitis. Jaundice can also cause your urine to darken, your faeces to become pale and your skin to itch.
It’s more common in countries where water supplies, sanitation and sewage disposal are poor. High-risk areas include Africa, the Middle and Far East and southern and eastern Europe.
If you’re travelling to a country where hepatitis A is common, there are a number of precautions you can take.
Boil or sterilise the local tap water if you’re unsure about it (preferably with an iodine-based preparation) – alternatively, drink only bottled water (and break the bottle seal yourself). Don’t have ice cubes in your drinks. Don’t clean your teeth in tap water. Take care with uncooked foods, including salads and fruit and vegetables (unless you prepare them yourself), as the water they are washed in may be contaminated. Wherever possible, only eat freshly cooked food that is served piping hot. Don’t eat shellfish.
The Hepatitis A Vaccination can provide you with long-term protection against hepatitis A. You will usually need to have two injections for long-term protection – the second ‘booster’ dose is usually given six to 12 months after the first. If you’re having the vaccine before travelling to a high-risk area, you should ideally have the first injection at least two to four weeks before you leave but it’s still worth having, even if you’re vaccinated the day you travel.