An alarming number of US travelers are not well enough informed about the risk of getting hepatitis A and B and can unknowingly expose themselves to these diseases, according to a recent survey of over 6,000 US travelers. Nearly 75% of those who responded had not asked for advice from their healthcare providers before departing, and almost half (47%) of all travelers to regions where a large percentage of the population has hepatitis B were not vaccinated against the disease.
“Most people don’t have a very good perception of the transmission of hepatitis,” says Thelma King Thiel, chair and CEO of Hepatitis Foundation International, the nonprofit organization that conducted the survey. In fact, nearly 70% of those surveyed mistakenly believed that hepatitis A is transmitted by blood or other body fluids.
More than 30% of the travelers surveyed also incorrectly believed that hepatitis A is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and nearly as many did not think that hepatitis A could be contracted at a five-star restaurant. Moreover, about a quarter of the respondents failed to realize that both hepatitis A and B can be fatal.
“Hepatitis, quite simply put, is an infection of the liver,” says Bradley A. Connor, MD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College and director of the New York Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine. Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that can spread through contaminated food or water, and hepatitis B is a viral disease that is transmitted through blood or other body fluids.
Hepatitis A can be a very serious, acute infection, and it can last for many months, with symptoms including extreme fatigue and listlessness. Hepatitis B can make you a lifelong carrier of the virus. It’s quite likely that you will develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and even liver cancer, Connor says.
Article By: Thomas May, Medical Writer