Hey Travelers, Vaccinate Before Drinking the Water

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Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 4.00.55 PMOK, everyone, let's take an informal poll.

Do you want to experience the following?

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Going out on a limb, I going to guess that the answer is ... no.

These are the symptoms of hepatitis A. It doesn't kill you, but you may wish that it did during the time (varying from two weeks to six months) that you have it.

(Note: Although they share the same name, and both infect the liver, hepatitis A has absolutely nothing in common with the far more serious hepatitis C an infection that we have often written about.)

If you are traveling to a place where food preparation techniques aren't that great most notably, but not exclusively, Mexico the good news is that hepatitis A is preventable with a common vaccine that's been used in the U.S. since the late 1990s. It is 95 percent effective, and is protective for 10 to 20 years.

But, if you want to get it, don't dawdle.

An alert recently released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America warns that, in effect, you cannot get the vaccine on the way to the airport. It requires some planning, primarily because the protective properties that guard against illness aren't activated for more than a month after receiving the shot.

"Americans planning international travel should see their health care providers or visit a travel clinic four to six weeks before the trip to learn what vaccines are recommended before heading to their destinations," said Dr. Emily Hyle, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School. "Many travelers don't realize their risk of exposure to infections and that many can be avoided with vaccination."

Dr. Hyle also spoke about measles, another disease that travelers need to be aware of.

"Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world and even brief exposure can lead to infection," she added. "Many travelers heading to developed countries, including those in Europe, might not realize that there are outbreaks of measles occurring in those areas, and they are at risk for becoming ill."

The good news is that vaccines for hep A and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) are extremely effective in protecting travelers anyone, really from two infections that they really don't want to catch.

All you have to do is roll up your sleeve.