Vaccine
November 25, 2019

WHEN TO GET A HEPATITIS A VACCINE BEFORE TRAVEL?

When travelling to foreign countries, it is always important to check if you need any vaccinations before you board your flight. Some countries have certain diseases that are not present in other countries, meaning that you will possess no immunity to the condition. Not only is it important to check vaccinations for your own health, but it is also important to check as some countries require proof of vaccinations before travelling. This post will explain when to get a Hep A vaccine before travel.

 

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a strain of a virus that infects the liver. The infection can range from a mild illness that only lasts for a few weeks, to a critical illness that persists over several months. While it is a rare occurrence, Hep A has caused deaths in some people.

How is Hepatitis A spread?

Hep A can also be spread via contact with an infected person. This contact can range from sexual contact through to caring for a sick person.
Contamination of food has more chance of occurring in countries where Hepatitis A is prevalent and where there is a lack of sufficient sanitary conditions. That being said, most countries use chlorination to remove contaminants such as Hep A from the water supply.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

Most adults and older children have symptoms after being infected with Hep A. These symptoms typically include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Clay-coloured faces
  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (Jaundice)

While symptoms will appear in adults and older children, some children younger than six may not show any symptoms of a Hep A infection.

How to avoid Hepatitis A infections

While Hepatitis A may be a horrible illness to catch, it can be easily prevented with a vaccine. In order for you to be truly vaccinated against Hepatitis A, you will have to receive more than one shot. However, when you receive the vaccine and how many shots you will require will depend upon the type of vaccine you receive.
In addition to vaccination, good hygiene is also vital in preventing Hepatitis A infections. This includes, washing your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before eating food, and changing nappies if you have children.
However, while good hygiene is important in preventing hepatitis A, the best way to prevent Hepatitis A infection is via vaccination.

Do I need a vaccination?

The general advice, as provided by the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices, is that vaccinations are recommended for people who are:

  • Travellers to countries where Hepatitis A is common
  • All children once they reach one-year-old
  • Recreational drug takers
  • Men who have sexual encounters with other men
  • Sufferers of liver disease, including those with hep B or hep C
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • People with bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia or Von Willebrand disease
  • Anyone wishing to be immune from the virus
  • Anyone who has frequent and direct contact with those infected with Hepatitis A

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine before travelling internationally?

If you haven’t received the hepatitis A vaccine or have never had the virus and are intending to visit a country where hepatitis A is prevalent,1 you ought to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. This may include receiving the vaccine or immune globulin prior to departing.
This is true even if you are intending to travel solely to urban areas, hotels, or resorts. If Hepatitis A is prevalent in a country, you may still catch the virus regardless of where you are staying. For instance, travellers have been known to catch Hepatitis A when visiting certain countries, even if they practice good hygiene.

When should I receive the Hepatitis A vaccine?

An important aspect of vaccination that you should keep in mind is the timing of your vaccination. Ideally, you should receive your first shot of the vaccine as soon as you make plans to visit a country in which Hepatitis A is prevalent. As a rule of thumb, it is best to receive the vaccine around two weeks before you leave for your trip.
That being said, receiving the vaccine any time before your trip is still better than not receiving it at all. Any dose of the vaccine before you depart will provide some protection against the virus.
However, if you are aged forty years or older, have immune system issues, or have chronic conditions including chronic liver disease and are planning on departing in less than two weeks, you should receive both a shot of the vaccine and a shot of immune globulin. You should inform your health practitioner as to the length of your trip so that they can give you the recommended dose for the length of your stay.

What happens if I can’t receive the vaccine?

It is not uncommon for some travellers to be allergic to some aspects of the vaccine, or for some travellers to be under the age of six months. If this is the case then you should receive a dose of immune globulin. The immune globulin will give you protection against the hepatitis A virus for a period of two months, or more depending on the dose you receive. Therefore, you should inform your health practitioner as to the length of your trip so that they can provide you with the correct dosage of immune globulin.
Consequently, if you are looking to travel to a country where Hepatitis A is prevalent, you ought to receive the vaccine two weeks before travel. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you should receive a dose of immune globulin in order for you to have some protection against the virus.

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