I had been on my church’s mission trip in South America. I helped out in an orphanage, feeding the kids and changing diapers.. After I got home, everything seemed fine. A few weeks later, I woke up with a sore throat and felt generally lousy. I thought I was coming down with flu.
Well, it got worse. I was so tired. There was pretty much constant nausea and diarrhea. I didn’t want to eat and I had a pain in my side. I toughed this out for a few days and then my mom came over. She looked at my eyes, said I was jaundiced, that my skin was yellow. We went straight to my doctor’s office.
The doctor examined me. He poked around and when I jumped, he said my liver was inflamed. He drew some blood and asked a lot of questions. When he heard about the mission trip, he said we would have to wait for the blood work, but his money was on hepatitis and that I had probably picked it up from contact with the diapers at the orphanage.
A nurse called to say I had Hepatitis A and that is would probably run its course in a few weeks, maybe a month.
She explained that they could give me something for the nausea and the diarrhea, but other than that I was to rest up, eat well and avoid alcohol. I was to come in every week or so for additional blood work .I was living on my own and so the risk of spreading the infection was low, but I was told to wash my hands often and avoid sharing personal items, like a toothbrush. Who would do that anyway?
Well, I was lucky. I was back into things four or five weeks later. . A little wiser, maybe. And a lot more cautious.
I went back to church and began helping out in the nursery. I made big signs telling workers to wash their hands. Some laughed at my caution. But when I told them what had happened to me, they stopped laughing and washed their hands.
And I learned one big lesson: When traveling abroad, educate yourself about the risks. Call the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and ask about the region you are traveling to. Be prepared. Know what the risks are and take action.