As an increasing number of baby boomers get their COVID-19 vaccinations — vital for resuming safe and authorized travel — it’s easy to forget that older adults should also keep up to date with other immunizations.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that all adults over age 50 get inoculated against influenza, shingles, pneumonia, and tetanus and diphtheria. (Some are one-time jabs, while others need periodic boosters.)
But the CDC also warns of current “widespread” outbreaks of a highly contagious virus both in the U.S. and abroad, which can damage the liver and lead to sickness, hospitalization, and even death: Hepatitis A.
While the three main Hepatitis types — Hep A, B, and C — are caused by separate viruses, they can all lead to similar symptoms.
Though not everyone is symptomatic — and Hepatitis A tends to be a shorter term illness than Hep B or C — symptoms may include fever, joint pain, tiredness, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine or light-colored stools, diarrhea, and — most seriously — liver damage.
One key difference is that while both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B have highly effective vaccines available, Hepatitis C does not.
Cases on the Rise
While Hepatitis A has long plagued developing countries, cases have been rising in the U.S. and other developed countries over the past four or five years.
According to the CDC, more than half the states in the U.S. — mostly concentrated in the eastern and southern regions — are currently experiencing Hep A outbreaks.
Since 2017 there have been more than 38,000 reported cases in the U.S., leading to three out of five patients requiring hospitalization as well as more than 300 deaths.
This represents the biggest person-to-person spike in Hep A cases since vaccines were developed in the mid-1990s.
Travelers Should Beware of Risks
“Hepatitis A is one of the most vaccine-preventable infections among travelers,” says Dr. Leonard Friedland, a vaccine researcher and physician at the pharmaceutical company GSK (GlaxoSmithKline).
Most adults in the U.S. have not been vaccinated for Hep A, however, and “more than half of older adults have never heard of or are unfamiliar with a vaccine,” says Dr. Friedland, citing a 2020 GSK survey.
That may be because Hepatitis A is most often linked to homelessness and drug use.
But “foodborne outbreaks of Hepatitis A can occur when someone eats contaminated fresh or frozen food products,” Dr. Friedland notes. The contamination can occur “where food or drink is prepared and served by handlers infected with the virus.”
That puts baby boomers — and other travelers — in jeopardy. “Anyone who isn’t vaccinated is at risk,” Dr. Friedland emphasizes.
If you think you may have acquired Hepatitis A, a doctor can order a blood test to check for recent infection. Treating the symptoms usually calls for adequate rest, nutrition, and fluids, while severe symptoms will usually require hospitalization.
But the best practice is to get your Hep A vaccine (two doses are necessary for long-term protection) and make your post-COVID domestic and international travels that much safer.
Answer to last week’s April 1 Travel Trivia Quiz:
The false trivia “fact” was that the latest passenger-freighter Aranui ship that cruises the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia is not called Aranui 5 because the French word for five is cinq, pronounced like “sank.” The actual fact is that the fourth version of the Aranui is called Aranui 5 because four is considered an unlucky number by the Chinese owners — so the fourth in the Aranui series is, indeed, called Aranui 5, despite the “sank” issue.
My thanks to all the readers who wrote in with their guesses — none were correct, so no one wins the new car. (Remember, this offer came on April 1.)