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.
- The hepatitis A map is at http://gamapserver.who.int/mapLibrary/Files/Maps/Global_HepA_ITHRiskMap.png
- The hepatitis B map is at http://gamapserver.who.int/mapLibrary/Files/Maps/Global_HepB_ITHRiskMap.png
- The hepatitis C map is at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-5/hepatitis-c.aspx
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 vendors.
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 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.’