Travel Health; Hepatitis
Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It's usually the result of a viral infection or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol.
Types of hepatitis
Viral infections of the liver that are classified as hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is always an acute, short-term disease, while hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute, but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.
Hepatitis A is caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type of hepatitis is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by feces from a person infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner, or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting hepatitis B.
It’s estimated by the CDC (Centre of Disease Control and Prevention) that 350 million people worldwide live with this chronic disease.
Hepatitis C comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact.
Also called delta hepatitis, hepatitis D is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is contracted through direct contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is a rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection. The hepatitis D virus can’t multiply without the presence of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and typically results from ingesting fecal matter that contaminates the water supply. Cases of hepatitis E have been reported in the Middle East, Asia, Central America and Africa, according to the CDC.
There are currently vaccinations available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
Risks of Hepatitis A and B
Vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended if:
- you're at high risk of infection or severe consequences of infection
- you're travelling to an area where the virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and Eastern Europe
Vaccination against Hepatitis B:
It's a common infection worldwide and is usually spread from infected pregnant women to their babies, or from child-to-child contact. In rare cases, it can be spread through unprotected sex and injecting drugs.
Hepatitis B is uncommon in the UK and most cases affect people who became infected while growing up in part of the world where the infection is more common, such as Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it.
If symptoms do develop, they can include:
Long-term (chronic) hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly (liver failure) and may only be picked up during blood tests.
In the later stages it can cause jaundice, swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, confusion, and blood in your stools or vomit.
Acute infections can sometimes be self-limiting, with rest and plenty of rest and fluids your body can fight off the infection. However, if the infections turns chronic, there is no cure. The infection can be kept under control with antiviral drugs, interferon therapies or liver transplant.
Immunization of children (1-18 years of age) consists of two or three doses of the vaccine. Adults need a booster dose six to 12 months following the initial dose of vaccine. The vaccine is thought to be effective for 15–20 years or more.
Safe and effective vaccines provide protection against hepatitis B for 15 years and possibly much longer. Three injections over a six to 12 month period are required to provide full protection.
Take on messages from today’s blog:
- Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is extremely important if you are visiting risky areas and can be the best way to protect yourself against the infection
- It is important to be precautious and follow travel advice even if you are vaccinated.
For more information on vaccinations, call our travel health clinic at 0203 630 1244.