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Issue Number 162            May 9, 2000

UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases

Story #30:


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The following story is reprinted with the permission of the author, Tom.


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.



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:
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). 

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:

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: or fax them to (651) 647-9131.

About IZ Express

IZ Express is supported in part by Grant No. 1NH23IP922654 from CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Its contents are solely the responsibility of and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC.

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Editorial Information

  • Editor-in-Chief
    Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
  • Managing Editor
    John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD
  • Associate Editor
    Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH
  • Writer/Publication Coordinator
    Taryn Chapman, MS
    Courtnay Londo, MA
  • Style and Copy Editor
    Marian Deegan, JD
  • Web Edition Managers
    Arkady Shakhnovich
    Jermaine Royes
  • Contributing Writer
    Laurel H. Wood, MPA
  • Technical Reviewer
    Kayla Ohlde

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