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Prevent Hepatitis A: Get Vaccinated Before You Travel

Did you know that hepatitis A infections are on the rise in the United States?  Almost half of new infections are from eating contaminated food or water while traveling abroad.  Hepatitis A is common in many parts of the world, including popular tourist destinations in Central and South America. Fortunately, hepatitis A can be easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.  

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe disease lasting several months. Although rare, people have died from getting infected with the hepatitis A virus.

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A can spread through contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated with fecal matter – even in microscopic amounts - from an infected person. Contamination of food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even cross-contamination with other food items after cooking. Raw shellfish, fruits, vegetables, and undercooked foods are common culprits in hepatitis A outbreaks. Waterborne outbreaks are typically associated with or water or ice from an inadequately treated or sewage-contaminated source.

Getting the hepatitis A vaccine before travel can prevent the disease

CDC recommends that travelers to Mexico and other areas get vaccinated for hepatitis A in advance of travel. Even if it travel is restricted to resort destinations, it is still possible to get infected with the hepatitis A virus.

Ask your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine before you travel. The vaccine is safe and effective and is the best way to prevent infection with the virus. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given in two doses — an initial vaccination followed by another shot six months later. The first dose of hepatitis A vaccine should be given as soon as travel is planned. Two weeks or more before departure is ideal, but any time before travel will provide some protection for healthy individuals. Even if you are unable to get both doses of the vaccine before you travel, getting one dose is better and safer than traveling unvaccinated.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Symptoms of hepatitis A can feel like a mild case of the flu and include nausea and vomiting, low-grade fever, yellow eyes or skin, stomach pain or discomfort, dark urine, joint pain or fatigue. Symptoms can appear anytime from a few weeks to several months after exposure.  Tell your doctor if you have recently traveled to Tulum, Mexico and have even mild symptoms or feel sick.

What to do if you have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus

A dose of vaccine can prevent hepatitis A symptoms or make them milder if given within 14 days of exposure to the virus.  The vaccine does not prevent illness if given after 14 days.

Learn more about hepatitis A and other travel-related vaccine recommendations

  • Visit CDC Traveler’s Health site to enter your travel destination and find out what vaccines you need for protection.
  • Visit the Yellow Book chapter on hepatitis A from CDC Traveler’s Health page to learn more about preventing hepatitis A when traveling.
  • Visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis to learn more about hepatitis A and other types of viral hepatitis.

Stay connected

  • @CDCTravel has up-to-date information on travel and health and @cdchep  has the latest information on viral hepatitis.
  • Email updates are available from CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.
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