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UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
TRAVELING FILMMAKER REFLECTS ON THE HIGH COST OF
HEPATITIS A VIRUS INFECTION
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The following story is reprinted with the permission of the
In October 1993, I traveled to Mexico as a freelance filmmaker and documentary producer to work on a program for
PBS regarding the sense of taste. I was filming around the festival of The Day of the Dead, traveling the
countryside and sampling food in local people's homes. It was in Vera Cruz, where I sampled a warm corn drink, that I believe I
contracted the virus I would later learn was hepatitis A.
I returned from my trip to Mexico feeling lousy and tired,
but still unaware that I was sick. Weeks later, my symptoms had progressed to fatigue, chills, and
body aches. But it wasn't until a co-worker told me that my eyes and skin appeared yellow that I knew something was definitely wrong.
Thirty days after returning from Mexico, I was diagnosed with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A was very debilitating, and was the first serious illness I had ever
had. Just prior to my diagnosis, I experienced an acute phase of a flu-like illness that
lasted several days. Following my diagnosis, I lost 35 pounds and was severely jaundiced. I also suffered
irregular body temperature fluctuations, extreme fatigue, and severe itching that prevented me from
sleeping through the night for almost two months.
I lost four months of income because I was unable to work. When I did return
to work, I was plagued by fatigue and was noticeably less efficient. All in all, it
took eight months to fully recover, and another two years to dig myself out of
the financial hole I found myself in.
It was not necessary for me to have gotten as sick as I did. I feel like I had
this chunk of my life ripped out from me that I would not have lost if I had been
vaccinated against hepatitis A.
Although I continue to travel internationally for my job and have acquired a
natural immunity to the hepatitis A virus, I made a point of getting the hepatitis
B vaccine and strongly encourage my co-workers and crew to get vaccinated against these diseases when traveling.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT HEPATITIS A:
The most recent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendation on hepatitis A (dated 10-1-99) notes
that travelers are one group at increased risk for hepatitis A. The recommendation is titled
"Prevention of Hepatitis A Through Active or Passive Immunization," and contains the
following information about travelers:
"Persons from developed countries who travel to developing countries are at substantial risk for acquiring hepatitis
A. Such persons include tourists, military personnel, missionaries, and others who work or study abroad in
countries that have high or intermediate endemicity of hepatitis A.... The risk
varies according to region visited and the length of stay and is increased even
among travelers who report that they observe measures to protect themselves against enteric infection or stay only in urban
areas, in luxury hotels, or in both. In the United States, children account for approximately one third of
reported travel-related cases."
To obtain a camera-ready copy (PDF format) of the 1999 ACIP statement on hepatitis A, go to:
The text version (HTML format) of this ACIP statement can be found at:
Traveling to most places in the world (except Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the
United States) increases your risk for hepatitis A virus infection. Make sure you consult with a travel clinic well
before your departure date to determine which additional vaccines are recommended for you.
Traveler's health information can be obtained from the National Center for Infectious Diseases' Travelers' Health
website at: http://www.cdc.gov/travel
Readers can also call CDC's Travelers' Information line to access recorded messages on diseases specific to
international travel, to request a list of publications on international travel available from CDC's automated fax
information service, or to order a copy of "Health Information for International
Travel" (the "Yellow Book"). The toll-free number is (877) 394-8747 (877-FYI-TRIP).
ABOUT THE "UNPROTECTED PEOPLE" SERIES:
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) has published this story for the purpose of making it available for our
readers' review. We have not verified the story's content, for which the author is solely responsible. The views
reflected in this story are the writer's and do not necessarily reflect the position of IAC.
To read "Unprotected People" stories that were previously published in "IAC EXPRESS" visit:
DO YOU KNOW OF STORIES THAT CAN HELP SAVE LIVES?
IAC is collecting stories of people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases. Please let us know
if you have personal stories, or if you know of stories that have appeared in the media, that describe the
suffering that occurred because someone wasn't immunized. In addition, we are also collecting case reports to help us
illustrate the morbidity and mortality caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
If you have stories or case reports that can help save lives, e-mail them to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or fax them to