On a hot December afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, I ordered a sandwich and Coke from a hot dog stand that changed my life forever.

One month later, after it was time to take down the Christmas decorations, a deep depression hit me. I would get back from a flight and feel extremely tired. I had horrible night sweats and my appetite all but disappeared.

I had lost 15 pounds in three weeks, and found the depression and fatigue almost paralyzing. I went to my doctor for answers, but he attributed it to the winter blues. My wife had since joined me in my depression.

Cancer runs in my family and since I was a bit of a hypochondriac I needed to find out how long I had to live. I went on the Internet for some answers. After an extensive symptom search I came up with several possible diagnoses. I went to the doctor the next day and requested some tests. The results quickly determined that I had caught Hepatitis A which is a liver disease that can affect anyone.

Although ingestion of contaminated food is the most common means of spread for hepatitis A, it may also commonly be spread by direct contact, or the ingestion of contaminated water. It is most prevalent in Asia, Africa, and – wouldn’t you believe it – South America. There is usually no long-term effect as in the case of Hepatitis B or C but the symptoms are usually similar. Unfortunately, my wife had caught it from me, and the only cure was plenty of rest, no alcohol, and time.

After researching the issue, I was shocked at how very little my international airline stressed the importance of vaccinations. With the emergence of SARS you would think that the airlines would be extra vigilant about communicable diseases. My episode was swept under the carpet and marked off as a freak occurrence.

Folks, flight attendants are serving you food; if they aren’t healthy, you aren’t safe. As airlines crack down on the sick leave usage, flight attendants are now afraid of getting in trouble and many times will fly while ill. How many people could I have potentially exposed if I insisted to fly? My hope in writing and sharing this very personal experience with you is that I can prevent this from happening to you.

Here are some of my Frank health tips:

International passengers – Contact the Centers for Disease Control and get the proper vaccinations when traveling abroad. For obvious reasons, I strongly recommend the Hepatitis series to start.

Airline employees – Contact your medical department and demand proper vaccinations even if your airline won’t pay for it.

Stay away from ice when overseas except for places that clearly state their ice is made from purified or bottled water.

When you are hungry and not too sure of the establishment, don’t take a chance or be cheap. You can never be 100 percent sure but I knew that I was taking a chance that day at the South American roadside stand.

Be persistent with your doctor. You know when something is wrong. Make sure your physician takes you seriously.

Realize that you are not indestructible. Until this occurrence, I felt that I was immune to all the worries of the world.
There are many vaccinations available today that aren’t stressed enough while traveling. It is time to dig out your yellow vaccination cards and update them before taking your next trip. Take the shots; you will thank me for it later.

My wife and I have since fully recovered and we are back in happier times. It was the worst two months of our lives, and I still have feelings of guilt for passing this awful condition on to her. I buy her flowers every chance I get, because nothing says “I’m sorry I gave you Hepatitis A” like roses.

Frankly, your health is all that really matters in this world and you never really appreciate it until it’s gone.