What is Hepatitis A?

  • Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver.
  • Hepatitis A is found in the stool of infected persons. It is usually spread by close personal contact and sometimes by eating food or drinking water that’s contaminated with the virus.
  • The illness can be quite mild to severe.
  • The virus does not usually stay long in the body after the initial illness and except in very rare circumstances does not result in long-term liver damage.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?

People who become sick with hepatitis A usually have two or more of the following:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • generally feel unwell.

A few days later, their skin and the whites of their eyes become a yellow colour. This is called jaundice. Sometimes, people may have no symptoms at all.

How does it spread?

Hepatitis A spreads from person-to-person by the fecal-oral route. A person with the virus may spread it for a few weeks before symptoms start until a few days after the start of jaundice. Person-to-person transmission can occur if proper hygiene practices are not being used, such as good hand washing. Food and water contaminated with human feces can also indirectly spread the infection.

Who is at risk of getting Hepatitis A?

People at higher risk of hepatitis A infection include:

  • Travellers or workers in countries with high rates of infection
  • Those who live in areas with high rates of infection
  • Members of the armed forces, emergency relief workers and others likely to be posted abroad at short notice to areas with high rates of infection
  • Residents and staff of institutions where there is an ongoing problem with hepatitis A infection
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of street drugs
  • Those with chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C or cirrhosis
  • Those who receive clotting factors concentrates
  • Zoo-keepers, veterinarians and researchers who handle non-human primates
  • Certain workers involved in research about Hepatitis A virus or production of hepatitis

The longest incubation period is between 15 and 50 days, typically between 28 to 30 days. Anyone who has had contact with the feces of an infectious person may be at risk of developing hepatitis A for the following 50 days. Anyone who develops symptoms of the disease within this time should contact their doctor immediately. A blood test can show if the disease is present.

How can I protect myself from Hepatitis A?

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, changing a diaper, and before eating or preparing food.
  • Wash uncooked food thoroughly before use, especially fruits, vegetables, and shellfish.
  • Cook all foods thoroughly.
  • A vaccine is available for Hepatitis A and is believed to be at least 85% effective in preventing illness in people who have been directly exposed to someone with hepatitis A.

How well does the Hepatitis A vaccine protect against infection?

  • When given within two weeks of exposure, the hepatitis A vaccine is very effective at preventing infection.
  • The vaccine may provide some protection when the exposure was more than two weeks previous, but the degree of protection is unknown.
  • Those who get the hepatitis A vaccine two to four weeks before being exposed will have 95 to 100% protection.

Who should not be vaccinated?

  • Anyone who had an allergic reaction in the past to hepatitis A vaccine
  • Anyone who has an allergy to any component of the vaccine. A nurse or doctor can tell you the specific components if you feel you may have an allergy
  • Children under one year old

Are there any side effects of the vaccine?

Soreness or some redness at the injection site may occur for one to two days after getting the vaccine. This is the most common reaction. A small number of people may feel tired, or get headaches, nausea, muscle ache, or a fever. Call your doctor if any of these symptoms last for more than two days, or if you have any unusual symptoms.

Does the vaccine provide long-term protection?

A single dose will protect you against hepatitis A for six months to one year. For long-term protection, a booster dose is recommended between six to 12 months after your first shot.

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December 2, 2015