Hepatitis – information for travellers

There are two strands of Hepatitis that may be a concern for international travellers, hepatitis A and B. You can read about Hep B separately to find out more about it.

Hepatitis A is one of the most common preventable diseases, often contracted while overseas, so it’s important to learn a little about it and why you should consider getting vaccinated. In some regions, Hepatitis B may also be a risk. Hepatitis B is also recommended for children as part of the childhood immunisation schedule because of the general risk of an outbreak anywhere.

There are also three other strands of Hepatitis: A, D and E, however they are not as much of a concern for travellers. If you are concerned about contracting Hepatitis, want to get vaccinated or learn where the risk is greatest when you travel, speak to a Travel Vaccination Clinic doctor.

The information on this page is general advice only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you require further information or advice you should make an appointment to see a doctor.

Hepatitis A – what are the symptoms?

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver, caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes (known as jaundice), tiredness, a stomachache, loss of appetite or nausea. A child may not display all symptoms so their infection may not be noticed until their caregiver starts to show symptoms of the virus.

How long do Hepatitis A symptoms take to appear?

Symptoms generally appear 1-2 weeks after infection when it has reached a peak level.

Where can someone contract hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is mostly present in developing countries, where children may become infected and show little or no symptoms, passing the virus on to adults before they develop an immunity. In the developed world hepatitis A is less prevalent but outbreaks can occur in specific communities.

How is Hepatitis A passed on?

The hepatitis A virus is expelled through feces and can be passed on through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Some forms of sexual contact (oral-anal) will also increase the risk of infection.

Shellfish that has been harvested in sewage-contaminated water or food that is uncooked and unpeeled may also spread the hepatitis A virus if it has been harvested in contaminated water.

Some countries are listed by the Travel Vaccination Clinic as higher risk for hepatitis A, and it is recommended to only drink bottled or boiled water, not to have ice or uncooked/unpeeled food and to practice strict hand-washing hygiene when travelling to areas where hepatitis A is mentioned as a risk.

How is Hepatitis A prevented?

You can eliminate your risk of contracting or passing on hepatitis A by getting vaccinated if you have not been already. Hepatitis A is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in travellers, and travel is one of the major causes when someone is found to have contracted the disease. You can get vaccinated against hepatitis A at the same time as your typhoid vaccination because these are administered in a single combined shot. This booster will also last a number of years once given.

Those who visit rural or remote areas, and spend longer in countries or eat or drink in places with poorer sanitation where hepatitis A is considered a risk are more likely to become infected if not vaccinated.

What are the side effects of the Hepatitis A vaccine?

Side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine are minimal, and about half of adults vaccinated and 1 in 6 children may experience some soreness and redness in the area where the shot was given.

Some can also experience mild tiredness, headaches (1 in 25 children or 1 in 6 adults) or loss of appetite (only about 1 in 12 children). These symptoms should disappear within a couple of days after the shot is administered.

Any serious and severe allergic reaction will usually appear within a few hours of the shot. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know appears to be having an allergic reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine.