While there are generally considered to be four kinds of hepatitis, A, B, C, and E, the ones that are most likely to be spread through the water supply are A and E. Hepatitis is an infectious viral disease that affects the liver. Hepatitis is found throughout the world, but the waterborne strains are found in underdeveloped countries where the water supplies are contaminated with human waste.
Hepatitis causes a number of very unpleasant symptoms, and its onset is usually swift. Those who drink contaminated water will become feverish, suffer from bodily weakness, headache, nausea, and diarrhea, among other afflictions. As hepatitis is a disease of the liver, those who become ill with it will also become jaundiced (yellow). Most people in the Third World become infected with hepatitis while they are children, and this does grant them lifetime immunity. Always remember, however, that infection with hepatitis can make a person more prone to developing liver cancer later in life.
Travelers from North America can easily become ill with hepatitis if they travel to Central or South America, Africa, the Middle East, India, China and other Far Eastern countries, and some Eastern European nations. Safe drinking water is available in Northern and Central Europe (England, Norway, Germany, and Italy), Australia, and New Zealand. If you have any doubts about the water supply in a country you are visiting, err on the safe side to avoid becoming infected with hepatitis.
Bottled water, when the tap water is chancy, is definitely an option, but for those who might be spending an extended length of time overseas or where bottled water simply may not be available, carrying along a good water filter is the best option.
When deciding which filter to take with you on your trip, it is important to read the specifications carefully – filters differ widely in what they will and will not remove from water. Pitcher filters will be basically useless in a situation such as this, they usually only remove bad taste and will do nothing to provide safe water to drink.
Portable filters are available that have been designed specifically to remove dangerous pathogens such as hepatitis viruses from the water. Viruses are very small, so the pore size of the filter must be correspondingly small to trap the hepatitis viruses and prevent them from entering your system.
For those who are only going to be abroad for a short period of time, a matter of days or a week, easy to carry and use filter straws are an excellent option. These small filters can simply be dropped into a glass of water and purified water can be sucked up. Another good filter for the short term traveler is the water filter bottle. These will filter about 4 times what a filter straw can, and are highly effective at providing safe water. If you are going to be living for an extended period of time in a foreign country, a countertop gravity water filter is probably the best idea. These come in a number of sizes from 1 quart to several gallons, and will assure you of pure water during your stay.