Viral Hepatitis: 8 Self-Defense Tips for Travelers
Here are eight tips to protect you when traveling to regions where hepatitis is prevalent.
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 pure water.
“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 unsuspecting tourists.
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.’
Dirty (reused) hypodermic needles can spread hepatitis, as can acupuncture needles and instruments used to make tattoos or piercings.
If there’s any doubt that a needle is sanitary – such as in an area where adequate sterilization techniques are unavailable -- avoid it.
What about medical care? If you’re in a developing country, “don’t get a blood transfusion or any type of IV unless absolutely necessary,” Palmer says. Invasive medical or dental treatment makes sense only if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks -- for example, if you need emergency treatment for life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident.
8. Steer clear of blood.
It’s prudent to assume that blood from another person is infectious. “Any blood exposure can transmit hepatitis B and C,” says John W. Ward, MD, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis.