The military has always been a victim of hepatitis A. Napoleon's army felt its wrath in the Egyptian campaign of 1799 and British, French, and German troops were severely affected in World War I.
More serious outbreaks affected 200,000 US troops from 1942 to 1945. Over five million cases occurred among German armies and civilians alone, forcing American soldiers to abandon key positions in Germany.
Hepatitis A continued to ravage the post-World War II era. Some 4,000 cases were reported among American and Korean soldiers in 1950. Similar reports were received from Vietnam and from French soldiers in Lebanon in 1978. What makes the military prone to the hepatitis A virus (HAV)?
"The armed forces frequently travel to, and are stationed in, areas of intermediate and high HAV endemicity. In the same way as any other traveler, this puts non-immune military personnel at risk of hepatitis A infection. Not only do they face the risk of HAV-contaminated water supplies and local cuisine, but also the prospect of contaminated canteen food should a member of the catering staff, become infected, "researchers said.
"In addition, the living conditions imposed by accommodation in barrack blocks would also be expected to promote the spread of HAV through close person-to-person contact – sharing cigarettes, drinks and food for example," they added.
Other occupations at risk for the HAV are medical charwomen, sewerage workers, day-care center personnel, pediatric nurses, and travelers to high endemicity areas like Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.
"According to unpublished data of the World Tourism Organization, 30 – 35 million persons living in industrialized countries visit a developing country each year, where hepatitis A is highly endemic. Almost one-half of them live in Europe and travel predominantly to Africa and Asia ; 40 percent live in the USA and Canada and travel mostly to Mexico or to the Caribbean; the remaining 10 percent originate from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, "according to Robert Steffen of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Zurich, Switzerland in the journal Vaccine.
"An average of 80 percent of these travelers are tourists. The remainder (average 20 percent) comprises business persons, experts, foreign aid volunteers or other professionals, and their families. These large numbers of travelers account for a considerable proportion of the hepatitis A infections diagnosed in industrialized countries, "Steffen revealed.
"The incidence rate of symptomatic hepatitis A among these unprotected travelers, the majority of whom stay at high quality hotels, is currently estimated to be as high as one in 300 for a one month journey. For the more adventurous, traveling and staying in remote and primitive areas, the risk of contracting hepatitis A is increased at least six-fold, "researchers said.
There's no specific therapy for hepatitis A. Once a person has the disease, rest and relaxation are generally advised and the doctor will try to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
If you decide to take any medicine or over-the-counter drug, clear this with your physician first. Since all drugs pass to the liver, toxic effects could occur if that organ is affected by hepatitis A. (Next: Complications of hepatitis A.)
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