Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease for which vaccination is routinely offered to people planning to travel to parts of the world where hepatitis A is endemic.

Although unpleasant, hepatitis A is not usually serious if contracted, with the majority making a full recovery in around two months. However, illness may persist for several months and, in rare instances, it can cause life-threatening liver failure.

In areas of the world where hepatitis A is more common it is routinely contracted in childhood (under 6 years of age), when the symptoms may be so mild as to go unremarked, and such children will then go on to develop a lifelong immunity to further disease.

Estimated Hepatitis A prevalence worldwide

Estimated Hepatitis A prevalence worldwide [Source: US CDC]

In areas of the world where hepatitis A is less common due to improved sanitation levels, the chances of contracting the disease as a child are lower, and thus the chances of acquiring immunity are much reduced.  For those who then travel as adults to higher risk areas their chance of catching the disease is increased.  For those over 50 years of age there is also increased risk of more serious fulminant hepatitis A infection.

Estimated adult susceptibility rate to Hepatitis A worldwide [Source: WHO]

Estimated adult susceptibility rate to Hepatitis A worldwide [Source: WHO]

This is why vaccination is provided for unprotected persons travelling from low risk to high risk areas, but at the time of writing there is an international shortage of hepatitis A vaccine, which has led to rationing and non-availability(see p.8 here).

One of the principal ways by which hepatitis A is caught is from drinking contaminated water.  To reduce the risk of infection an aquapure traveller will purify drinking water containing hepatitis A, as well as a broad spectrum of other waterborne viruses, bacteria, parasitic protozoa (cysts) and helminths (worms), and will also protect against heavy metals, pesticides and volatile organic compounds that can contaminate water sources.

For further information on hepatitis A please visit the following websites and consult your travel health professional:

UK: NHS Choices

US: CDC