Hepatitis A is common in many parts of the world, particularly in some popular travel destinations such as Mexico, and Central and South America. On May 1, 2015, CDC released an advisory to travelers to Tulum, Mexico, as public health officials had recently identified 27 cases of Hepatitis A in 12 states as of the end of April – all sharing this travel destination. Unvaccinated travelers to Tulum and other areas where Hepatitis A is common are at a greater risk of getting infected with the hepatitis A virus. Learn more about how the hepatitis A vaccine can protect you from getting infected when traveling.

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe disease lasting several months. Although rare, people have died from getting infected with the hepatitis A virus.

How is Hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A can spread through contact with objects, food, or drinks  contaminated with fecal matter – even in amounts too small to see – from an infected person. Contamination of food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even cross-contamination with other food items after cooking. Raw shellfish, fruits, vegetables, and undercooked foods are common culprits in Hepatitis A outbreaks. Waterborne outbreaks are typically associated with water or ice from an inadequately treated or sewage-contaminated source.

Before you travel, learn more about Hepatitis A.

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Getting the Hepatitis A vaccine before travel can prevent the disease

CDC recommends that travelers to Mexico and other areas ask their doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine and get vaccinated for hepatitis A in advance of travel. Even if travel is restricted to resort destinations, it is still possible to get infected with the hepatitis A virus.

The vaccine is safe and effective and is the best way to prevent infection with the virus. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given as two shots administered six months apart. The first dose should be given as soon as travel is planned. Two weeks or more before departure is ideal, but any time  before travel will provide some protection for healthy individuals. Even if you are unable to get both doses of the vaccine before you travel, getting one dose is better and safer than traveling unvaccinated.

Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Flu Vaccine More Effective

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A can feel like a mild case of the flu. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, low-grade fever, yellow eyes or skin, stomach pain or discomfort, dark urine,  joint pain, or fatigue. Symptoms can appear anytime from a few weeks to several months after exposure. Tell your doctor if you have recently traveled to Tulum, Mexico, and have even mild symptoms or feel sick.

What to do if you have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus

A dose of vaccine can prevent Hepatitis A symptoms or make them milder if given within 14 days of exposure to the virus. The vaccine does not prevent illness if given after 14 days.

Related: 9 Things You Should Know About the HPV Vaccine

Learn more about Hepatitis A and other travel-related vaccine recommendations