Getting the Hepatitis A Vaccine Before Traveling Abroad

A woman receiving a vaccination

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If you plan on visiting a country with a high rate of hepatitis A infection, consider getting the hepatitis A vaccine if you're not already immune. This vaccine is safe, very effective and is relatively inexpensive — especially when considering the costs of dealing with a hepatitis A infection. While infection rates in the United States have decreased to all-time lows, many countries (especially those with unstable water supplies) have extremely high rates of hepatitis A infection.

What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a very infectious viral cause of acute hepatitis. It is an acute illness, which means that the symptoms can come on suddenly and sharply, causing a range of clinical problems from mild illness with no symptoms to more severe illness and even, on rare occasions, acute liver failure, and death. Hepatitis A eventually goes away and does not cause chronic problems.

What Is My Risk of Infection From Hepatitis A?

Your risk of hepatitis A infection while traveling depends on where you travel and is increased by your length of stay. Currently, travel to Mexico, countries in Central or South America and parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia all have high risks of exposure to the hepatitis A virus. However, any country can experience a hepatitis A epidemic, so it's a good idea to check with your physician regarding your specific location. 

What Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

The hepatitis A vaccine is a two-dose series given 6 months apart that's given as an injection.

How Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine Given for Travelers?

The first dose will be given before you begin your travel. Ideally, you can start vaccinations to complete the two-shot series before you travel to an area where the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended. Although it's best to get vaccinated as early as possible, if you do not have time, it's OK to begin even days before you leave. Even a single dose will offer you some protection. Your physician may recommend immune globulin (IG) which can provide greater short-term protection. The hepatitis A series can be completed by taking the second dose of vaccine when you return (after it has been at least six months).

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