Hepatitis A (formerly known as infectious hepatitis
) is an acute infectious disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which is most commonly transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated food or drinking water. Every year, approximately 10 million people worldwide are infected with the virus. The time between infection and the appearance of the symptoms, (the incubation period), is between two and six weeks and the average incubation period is 28 days.
In developing countries, and in regions with poor hygiene standards, the incidence of infection with this virus is high and the illness is usually contracted in early childhood. HAV has also been found in samples taken to study ocean water quality. Hepatitis A infection causes no clinical signs and symptoms in over 90% of these children and since the infection confers lifelong immunity, the disease is of no special significance to the indigenous population. In Europe, the United States and other industrialized countries, on the other hand, the infection is contracted primarily by susceptible young adults, most of whom are infected with the virus during trips to countries with a high incidence of the disease.
Hepatitis A does not have a chronic stage and does not cause permanent liver damage. Following infection, the immune system makes antibodies against HAV that confer immunity against future infection. The disease can be prevented by vaccination and hepatitis A vaccine has been proven effective in controlling outbreaks worldwide.
The map below is from the World Health Organization and gives a general distribution of the problem. Do not make your own assessment from this map, but rather discuss the issue with your doctor prior to travel.