Hepatitis: How can expats reduce their risk of contracting it?

August 24, 2016
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 1.45 million people died of Hepatitis in 2013, however 95% of people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected.

“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril. It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable disease like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.” Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.

Expats, particularly those living or working in developing countries, need to be aware of what hepatitis is and how they can help reduce their risk of contracting the virus.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.

Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
  • Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. In most cases the infection is mild, with most people make a full recovery and remain immune from further HAV infections.

    An effective vaccine exists to prevent HAV.
  • According to WHO, an estimated 240 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B virus (HBV).

    HBV is transmitted through exposure to infected blood and other body fluids. HBV can also be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth. Transmission may also occur through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and contaminated needles.

    Healthcare workers are at risk of HBV infection, by sustaining accidental needle injuries while caring for infected-HBV patients.

    An effective vaccine exists to prevent HBV.
  • Globally 130–150 million people have chronic hepatitis C (HCV), it is mostly transmitted through exposure to infected blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures or drug use.

    There is no vaccine for HCV.
  • Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. Approximately 15 million people globally are coinfected with HDV and HBV.

    The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.

    Currently there is no effective antiviral treatment for HDV. However, HBV vaccines provide protection from HDV infection.
  • The Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infects an estimated 20 million people globally each year. The virus is mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food, and in most cases is self-limiting.

    An effective vaccine to prevent HEV infection has been developed, but is not widely available.

    What can expats do to help prevent Hepatitis
  • Be aware of how the food you eat has been cooked and prepared. Ensure that food is thoroughly cooked, fruits and vegetables have been washed in clean water and dairy products have been pasteurised.
  • Avoid tap or well water and unpasteurised milk.
  • Ensure high levels of hygiene and cleanliness. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and clean your hands with a hand sanitizer.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Ensure all needles or devices that pierce the skin are sterile before use.
If you are planning to move overseas and require international health insurance, contact Allianz Worldwide Care for a quote.

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