Traveling Off The Beaten Path? Get a Hepatitis Vaccine

By Domenic A. Sammarco, R.Ph., EMT

Currently, only a vaccination against yellow fever is required for U.S. citizens traveling to South America or subSaharan Africa. But any American traveling to those areas or anywhere else outside northern and western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada should consider getting vaccinated against hepatitis A at least two weeks before departure.

"Hepatitis A is the biggest cause of productive time lost from work for returning travelers," says Davidson Hamer, MD, director of the Traveler's Health Service at the Tufts University-affiliated New England Medical Center. "It's not usually fatal," he adds, "but when you get sick from it, you can be sick for weeks."

Symptoms appear after an incubation period of about thirty days and include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, pain in the upper right part of the abdomen, and fever. The disease spreads via contaminated fecal matter that can taint water, and ultimately food and people, in areas with underdeveloped sewage systems and other marginal sanitation measures.

Two new vaccines can provide long-term protection against hepatitis A, as opposed to just four months for the traditional vaccine-gamma globulin. Given in a two-shot series, they cost about $60.00 a shot.