The Hepatitis A Vaccine certificate
Some countries require visitors to have a valid Hepatitis A certificate before entering, which can be issued by your doctor and proves you have been vaccinated against the virus.
- Vaccine Effectiveness: The Hepatitis A vaccine is very effective, providing up to 30 years of protection against the disease once the full course of jabs is completed.
- How long before a trip do you have to get Hepatitis A vaccine? Ideally, you should get your Hepatitis A vaccine around two or three weeks in advance of your trip. However, as the incubation period for the infection is 14-28 days, a vaccine can be given up to one day before you depart and still protect you. For long term protection (up to 20 years), it is advised to get a repeat vaccine after 6 to 12 months.
- Who should get the Hepatitis A vaccine? The NHS recommends that people at a high risk of contracting Hepatits A get vaccinated against the disease. This includes travellers to areas with high levels of Hepatitis A, especially those staying for long periods. If you are visiting places with unsafe drinking water or poor levels of hygiene and sanitation, you are advised to get vaccinated. Other groups at high risk are:
- People with chronic liver disease
- People who inject illegal drugs
- Men who have sex with men
- Employees whose jobs may expose them to the virus, such as sewage workers or primate handlers, and for staff at institutions where personal hygiene may be poor, like homeless shelters.
- Infants can be vaccinated from the age of 1 and above.
Who should NOT get the vaccine:
- The vaccine should not be given to a child younger than 1 year old. It should also be avoided by anyone who has experienced an allergic reaction to a earlier dose of the vaccine or any of its ingredients, or has a severe allergy to the preservative formaldehyde, or the antibiotic neomycin. If you are ill with a high fever of more than 38.5 degrees Celsius, you should postpone your vaccination until you have recovered.
- Side effects of the Hepatitis A vaccine: There will likely be some soreness and a reddening of the skin around the injection site. Less common side effects are fever, headache, loss of appetite and aching muscles.
Do you plan to travel to a country where Hepatitis A is widespread? If so, if you haven’t already been vaccinated, you may need to get vaccinated before you go. Read on to find out more about Hepatitis A and how you can prevent an infection.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a mild to severe infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It originated in small mammals such as bats and later spread to primates and humans.
There is no specific treatment for the Hepatitis A virus, but the symptoms of the infection can be treated. Almost everyone recovers from Hepatitis A with lifelong immunity. In rare cases it can develop into more serious liver disease.
Hepatitis A levels can be high throughout the year in areas of the world where the virus is common. In the USA, the most recent outbreaks have taken place in multiple states since June 2017, and are linked to homelessness and drug use, according to a health alert issued by the CDC.
Hepatitis A symptoms
Children under 6 years old may present no symptoms at all, although they are still infectious to others.
Older children and adults can feel quite unwell however. All types of hepatitis present similar symptoms, which include nausea, vomiting, mild fever, stomach pain, gastrointestinal upset, dark colored urine and diarrhea. A yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) can also occur.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by ingesting food or drink contaminated by the feces of an infectious person, or by direct contact, including sexual contact, with an infectious person. The disease can spread especially easily in places where there is lack of sanitation, such as safe waste disposal, and a lack of hygiene, such as dirty hands.
Cases of viral Hepatitis A infection are reported worldwide all year round, but the numbers peak in spring and summer months, according to a review of cases published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.
This is most likely due to an increase of people traveling to places where Hepatitis A is more common during the summer months, and because people swim more frequently in hot weather. There may also be an increase in sexual contact, while poor hygiene and a lack of sanitation may spread the virus more easily in warmer weather.
Where is Hepatitis A found?
While Hepatitis A can be found all over the world, it is most common in:
- sub-Saharan and northern Africa
- the Indian subcontinent (in particular Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan)
- some parts of the Far East (excluding Japan)
- the Middle East
- South and Central America
The infection is least common in Scandinavia, Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand. Australia, and North America.
How to prevent Hepatitis A
As well as being vaccinated to prevent Hepatitis A infection, measures that reduce the risk of contracting the disease include:
- Practicing safe hygiene by washing hands after visiting the toilet and before touching food
- If soap and water is not available, using hand sanitizer to clean hands
- Washing fresh food in clean water, peeling it and cooking it thoroughly
- Drinking clean, potable water
As Hepatitis A is often transmitted through contaminated water and food, in high risk areas you are recommended to avoid consuming:
- Unpasteurized dairy produce
- Raw fruits and vegetables, including salads
- Peelings from fruits and vegetables
- Raw or undercooked (rare) meat and fish
- Fresh or cooked food that has been left out or exposed to flies, incuding buffets
- Food from street vendors, unless it is cooked thoroughly in your sight, and served hot on clean plates
- Unboiled tap water
- Ice made from tap water