Make sure you get vaccinated!

Make sure you get vaccinated!

If you’re planning on travelling abroad, it’s important to make sure your vaccinations are up to date and that you have the right ones for the country you’re visiting. Here’s everything you need to know about the hepatitis vaccination, from who is at risk to what the process involves.

Getting ready to go travelling is an exciting but stressful, time. You want to make sure that you’re ready for whatever the world can throw at you, whether that’s tricky conversations in a different language or just making sure that you have the best rucksack. You also need to ensure that your vaccinations are up to date, especially if you’re visiting developing countries. Hepatitis is a disease which is rife in some countries, but thankfully, by staying on top of your vaccinations and having good travel health insurance it is easy to prevent.

What is hepatitis?

First things first, let’s talk about the virus itself. Hepatitis is a disease which affects the liver, causing the cells to swell up. Although the disease can heal on its own without leaving any lasting damage, sometimes it can progress and leave severe scarring.

Usually it takes from four to six weeks to heal, but it can take up to six months (or longer if it becomes chronic).

There are seven types of hepatitis (A, B, C, D, E, G, and X) and they’re all transmitted differently. You can find out about the other forms of hepatitis on any online medical site but if you’re travelling you’re more likely to encounter hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Who is at risk?

If you’re travelling to a rural area in a third world country you’re probably more likely to encounter Hepatitis A, which is spread through contaminated food and water. Although it’s possible to catch the disease in big cities and luxury hotels too, it’s more common in small villages with a lack of sanitation and lax attitudes towards hygiene.

Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is spread through bodily fluids. You can catch it through unprotected sex including oral and by sharing drug needles. Even if you avoid taking part in these activities, it’s also possible to catch it while doing something completely innocent: for example, getting your ears pierced, getting a tattoo, or indulging in an acupuncture session. It’s all down to cleanliness, and although most places are safe, there are definitely dangerous exceptions out there.

You’ll need the vaccination if you’re planning to visit…

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are considered to be very high risk regions for hepatitis A, but if you’re planning on visiting anywhere in the Indian subcontinent it’s worth getting the vaccination. Africa, the Middle East, Central America, South America, and Mexico are also high risk areas.

If you’re visiting the Far East it’s worth discussing with your doctor, as some areas are considered high risk while others (such as Japan) are not. You can find a map of high risk countries from the World Health Organisation, too.

The high risk zones for hepatitis B are South-East Asia and the Pacific Basin (although Japan, Australia, and New Zealand are generally low risk). Sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon basin are also high risk. Speak to your doctor if you’re planning to visit the Middle East, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe as some (but not all) parts of these places can be considered high-risk.

What does the vaccine involve?

You can get the vaccinations separately, or together as a package deal.

The hepatitis B vaccination involves three injections, over a period lasting between four to six months. One month after the final dose, your doctor will want to check your blood to make sure that the vaccination worked. It really is best to plan your course as far in advance as possible.

On the other hand, the hepatitis A vaccination can be administered two weeks before you leave. If you’ve really left things to the last minute, you can get the injection on the day of your departure, although this isn’t recommended as it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to form.

You can also get a combined vaccination if you’re travelling to an area with high risk of both diseases, to be administered four to six weeks before you leave.

How to Get Your hepatitis vaccination

You can get your vaccinations on the NHS, at a GUM Clinic, a Travel Health Clinic, or through a private healthcare provider. The NHS may not pay for your injection if you want it for travel purposes, and will either charge you around £30 for the immunisation or refer you to a private clinic.

 

About The Author

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I've worked as an Occupational Therapist for many years dealing with physical and mental health patients, both in hospitals and the community. Living a healthy, well balanced life with a good diet, regular exercise and a taking a positive outlook are crucial to becoming a very well being indeed - sometimes easier said than done!

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