Both hepatitis A and B, liver diseases that can have detrimental consequences, are serious public health concerns for the United States and the world. From the severe flu-like symptoms associated with hepatitis A to the chronic liver failure that develops from hepatitis B, it’s important to know that you can prevent these diseases through vaccinations, a little bit of knowledge about how they’re transmitted, and protecting yourself from their transmission.
At Infectious Disease Tropical Medicine and Travel Clinic, located in Lansdowne, Virginia, we are a professional and compassionate team that understands how infectious diseases spread and are here to help you learn about disease prevention. Because our passion is to help patients protect their health, we’re here to give you five easy tips on how you can prevent hepatitis A and B and live the healthiest life possible.
You can prevent both hepatitis A and hepatitis B by getting vaccinated against them. Since the 1980s, the number of hepatitis A infections in the U.S. have dropped by 95%. And while the number of acute cases of hepatitis B have decreased over the last two decades, the number of chronic cases in the U.S. remains high with an estimated 2.2 million people currently diagnosed with the life-threatening disease.
Most children born in the U.S. are vaccinated within the first few years of life, but that may not be enough to fully protect you from contracting the disease. The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses, the first between 12-24 months of age, the second between ages two and four. Hepatitis B vaccines are given in three doses: The first is given in the hospital after birth, the child’s pediatrician administers the second between one to two months old, and the third vaccine is given between 6-18 months old.
But children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from hepatitis immunization. At Infectious Disease Tropical Medicine and Travel Clinic, we recommend adults get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B if they:
- Travel to countries where hepatitis is common, including Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe
- Regularly interact with people from these countries, including adopting children native to these areas
- Are men who have sex with other men
- Use illicit drugs (both IV and non-IV drug use)
- Have certain medical conditions, including bleeding disorders and diabetes
We also recommend getting vaccinated for hepatitis B if you have any of the following:
- Have a sexual partner with hepatitis B
- Have more than one sexual partner
- Have a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Work in a field where you’re exposed to other people’s blood
Avoid Street Food
Hepatitis A is frequently transmitted via contaminated food, most often fruits and vegetables. Risky foods can become impaired at any point, including when they’re grown, processed, packaged, or cooked. In areas where there are poor sanitation and personal hygiene, the risk of contracting hepatitis is significantly higher.
If you vacation, work, or travel in areas where hepatitis is common, avoid eating street foods, where there isn’t fresh, running water or where the person handling the food cannot routinely wash their hands. By sticking with safe foods when traveling in these areas, you can protect yourself from contracting hepatitis A.
Drink Bottled Water
In countries where hepatitis A is common, you should avoid drinking tap water. These countries lack proper sanitation, and you can end up in a situation where a glass of water with lemon ends up with five days in the bathroom with an upset stomach and churning bowels.
Instead, specifically request bottled water whenever you need to hydrate. If you don’t mind, ask for your beverages without ice. If warm cocktails turn your tastebuds, drink your drinks quickly, and don’t suck on the ice cubes left in your glass. Don’t forget to opt for bottled water when you brush your teeth, as it doesn’t take much exposure to become infected with the virus.
Use Condoms and Clean Needles
When it comes to hepatitis B, the most common path to exposure is through bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and sexual fluids. Most people who contract the disease do so through unprotected sex or sharing needles while using IV drugs.
Therefore, the easiest way to protect yourself from contracting these diseases involves using barrier methods of contraception (aka condoms) and not sharing needles. You should also avoid sharing razor blades and toothbrushes, as small traces of blood can remain on these tools and lead to infection.
Talk to Your Infectious Disease Doctor
Lastly, if you think you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A or B, talk to your doctor. Depending on a variety of factors, they may prescribe you anti-viral medications or give you a certain kind of vaccination that offers post-exposure protection.