Thanks to modern hygiene and vaccinations, our chances of contracting hepatitis in the Western World happily have fallen sharply over recent years to the point where it is no longer something we need to worry particularly about.
Hepatitis is a serious condition and one that we still need to be vigilant against. In particular we need to be careful when traveling abroad where the chances of contracting hepatitis is still much higher. In particular travelers heading to the non-urban areas of developing countries are those at most risk of being infected – though that said even staying in a luxury hotel it’s still possible to catch the condition. In these countries there are not the same hygiene precautions and the vaccination is not so readily available meaning that the conditions can spread relatively easily throughout the population.
Fortunately it is possible to reduce one’s chances of contracting the condition by being careful and taking certain precautions to avoid the problem. Here we will look at how hepatitis spreads, and how you can protect yourself against it when traveling abroad.
Types of Hepatitis
There are three main types of hepatitis and these spread in slightly different ways. They are:
Hepatitis A spreads through fecal to oral contact. This occurs usually through the consumption of contaminated foods which can be contaminated in a number of different ways with just the tiniest amount of feces. For instance if a fly should land on manure only to then land on your food before you eat it, this can cause a hepatitis A infection. Simple measures can help to avoid this problem such as avoiding the local water (which is not always as carefully sourced as it is in developed countries). If you must drink the local water then make sure to filter it and then boil it. You should also avoid leaving food out for long periods – and be careful what you eat in general. Make sure you cook everything thoroughly and avoid raw foods. The good news is that hepatitis A is not as dangerous as some other forms and most patients will recover within a few weeks or months.
Hepatitis B and C
Hepatitis B and C are more serious conditions and can cause cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and death. This form of hepatitis is spread via direct contact with infected blood or other fluids (in the case of B). Infection is often caused through sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis B or C. Of course the best way to avoid this is to make sure to always use protection when engaging in intercourse and to be as discriminate and cautious as possible when choosing sexual partners. Hypodermic needles are also responsible for infections and for this reason it is very important to make sure that any needles used are either new or sterilized, and to avoid recreational drug use.
However hepatitis B and C can also spread more easily. For instance by sharing nail trimmers, razors, drugs, tooth brushes etc. To avoid this problem make sure to use only your own products. Anything you use, be sure to inspect thoroughly and make sure anything you buy is vacuum packed. Keep your toothbrushes and razors in a sealed container when not in use. Other precautions such as always washing thoroughly and using an anti-bacterial soap can also help you to avoid infection.
These basic precautions will help you to avoid contact with contaminated items. However if you are traveling abroad to a developing country, or you travel abroad regularly, then you should take the further precaution of vaccination which will help to improve your immune defenses against the condition.
There are safe and effective vaccinations against hepatitis A and B though unfortunately not yet for C. So while you can use the vaccination to feel a lot safer and a lot more protected against the conditions, it does not mean you can abandon safety and hygiene.
The hepatitis A vaccine will normally be given in two doses which are spaced six months apart. Meanwhile the hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses which are spread across six months. For children this will be spread over three or four doses across 18 months. A combined vaccine also exists for adults.
While you might not be a fan of injections and the thought of the needle might make you squeamish, it’s important to remember that this is far preferable to contracting a serious condition and going through the process of treating this or even risking death. If you are pushed for time – for instance if you are traveling on short notice – then speak with your doctor. You may be able to get just the first injections which will provide you with partial immunity, or you may be able to get an accelerated course before you depart.