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Traveling Abroad? Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine

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Updated June 27, 2014

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 My Risk of Infection?

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 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. General information about hepatitis A infection for travelers can be found in the Yellow Book maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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. More information about this is available in "Why You Need the Hepatitis A Vaccine."

How Is the 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). More information about IG is available in "What Is Immune globulin?".

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis A. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HepatitisA.htm. Accessed July 31, 2009.

Dienstag, JL. Acute Viral Hepatitis. In: AS Fauci, E Braunwald, DL Kasper, SL Hauser, DL Longo, JL Jameson, J Loscaizo (eds), Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17e. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Pickering, LK (ed), The Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 26th e. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003. 311-313.

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  6. Getting the Hepatitis A Vaccine Before Traveling Abroad

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