Viral Hepatitis: 8 Self-Defense Tips for Travelers
Here are eight tips to protect you when traveling to regions where hepatitis is prevalent.
Viral hepatitis is especially common in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe,
the Middle East, the Amazon basin, and Asia.
The World Health Organization and the CDC have maps that show countries with
high rates of hepatitis.
3. Keep your hands clean.
Frequent hand washing helps keep fecal matter from spreading from your hands
to your mouth, where it can cause infection. Wash your hands with warm, soapy
water -- or use a hand sanitizer -- after using the bathroom or changing a
diaper and before eating. If you must use a dirty bathroom, consider using a
napkin or paper towel to turn off the tap and to open the door.
4. Watch what you eat.
Uncooked food, including fruits, vegetables, salads, and raw meat or
shellfish, can transmit hepatitis. Where sanitation is iffy, stick with cooked
foods -- eaten while they are still hot. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables only
if you peel them yourself.
“It’s like we used to say in the Peace Corps,” Holmberg says. “Boil it, cook
it, peel it, or forget it.” Finally, don’t buy food from street
5. Avoid contaminated water.
In regions with poor sanitation, tap water can transmit hepatitis. To cut
your risk, use bottled water for drinking as well as for washing fruits and
vegetables. Steer clear of ice cubes unless you’re sure they were made from
“You don’t want to buy bottled water and then pour it into a glass
containing ice cubes made from contaminated water,” Palmer says. Experts
recommend buying bottled water only from a source you trust -- street vendors
have been known to refill water bottles with tap water and sell them to
6. Take precautions regarding sex.
Because all three of the main types of hepatitis can be spread by sexual
contact, it’s a good idea to learn something about a potential sex partner --
especially if he/she is from a region where hepatitis is endemic.
There’s no easy way to tell whether a particular person has hepatitis. Many
people look healthy even in the disease’s latter stages. But your risk may be
higher with a partner who has tattoos, has used illegal drugs, or has a history
of sexual promiscuity.
Using a latex condom can reduce your risk. Also avoid oral-anal contact and
rough sex, anal sex, and other activities likely to cause cuts or abrasions,
which increase the risk of transmission.
7. Beware of ‘sharps.’