Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. It is common in countries where hygiene and sanitation standards are low, representing a potential risk to the health of Australian travellers. Over the past two decades, there have been rare outbreaks of hepatitis A in Australia. 1,2
Anyone who comes into contact with contaminated food or water is at risk, although adults tend to suffer more severe symptoms than children. The disease initially incubates for a period of 15 to 50 days, with a mean of about 28 days.The first symptom is a general feeling of unwell followed by fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and gastrointestinal disorders. Jaundice, which is the yellowing of skin and eyes, is a symptom for many adults. The acute phase of hepatitis A lasts for approximately one month although it can take up to six months to recover completely. 1,2
Hepatitis A is spread by food and water that has been contaminated by the virus. This is most prevalent in countries with poor sanitation and hygiene practices. It can also be transmitted from person to person through close physical contact with an infectious person.2
Australians travelling overseas to a high-risk hepatitis A region should be vaccinated before travel. Travellers are advised to visit their General Practitioner or travel medicine specialist six to eight weeks before travelling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options. Australians travelling in countries with increased risk of hepatitis A should always take extra caution and avoid contaminated food and drinks. Travellers should always drink bottled water and avoid ice in drinks where possible. Raw foods like salad and fruits that can’t be peeled should also be avoided in case of water contamination. 1
Doctors can diagnose hepatitis A with blood tests and a physical examination. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Recovery from symptoms can take several weeks and, in some cases, even months. A focus is placed on nutritional balance and replacement of fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea. 1
Urgent medical advice is recommended for the onset of hepatitis A-like symptoms. For further information regarding prevention of hepatitis A contact your healthcare professional.