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Disease

Hepatitis A

Page last updated on 30 September 2019

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. People are exposed to the virus generally through food or drink contaminated with faeces (poo), however, close personal contact (e.g. providing personal care) can spread the virus.

Although outbreaks of hepatitis A do occur in Australia, the virus is most commonly contracted overseas, and so travellers should consider vaccination before they leave. Symptoms of infection are related to decreased liver function, and include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark coloured urine, and abdominal pain. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A – vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against this disease.

Key disease information

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a virus which infects and causes inflammation the liver. It causes an acute infection from which almost everyone will fully recover. 

Hepatitis A is spread through food or drink contaminated with faeces (poo) and may also be spread by close personal contact such as anal sex. Symptoms are associated with decreased liver function and include fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

Hepatitis A is not common in Australia, although outbreaks have been known to occur in some communities. Hepatitis A is common (endemic) to many overseas countries. 

Is hepatitis A contracted through food?

Yes. Being exposed to hepatitis A through food or drink contaminated with faeces (poo) is the most common way to contract the virus. Good personal hygiene in general and when preparing food is a way to decrease the spread of the virus.

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is mainly spread via the faecal-oral route, through contact with food, water, or objects contaminated with faeces (poo). Hepatitis A may also be spread by close personal contact (e.g. personal care).

If you have contracted hepatitis A you should avoid close contact with others. The infectious period usually starts two weeks before symptoms appear, and up to a week after jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) appears.

Is hepatitis A contagious?

Yes.Hepatitis A is spread from person to person mainly via the faecal-oral route, which is associated with poor personal hygiene and lack of quality sanitation and water purification systems. 

You can be exposed to hepatitis A via:

  • Contact with contaminated food or drink, or utensils 
  • Close personal contact, such as sex, may also spread the virus

Hepatitis A can only infect humans. 

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Symptoms can appear anywhere from 2-7 weeks after contracting the infection, but usually appear around 4 weeks after contracting the infection and onwards. Although symptoms may take some time to appear, the infection can still be passed onto other people during this time. 

Some people, especially young children, can have the infection without showing any signs or symptoms. A blood test is the most effective way to identify if you have contracted the virus.  

People who do have symptoms may have: 

  • fever 
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • dark coloured urine 
  • clay (light) coloured stool (poo) 
  • jaundice - yellowing of the skin and eyes. 

 

Symptoms may continue for several weeks, but usually last for less than 2 months. In some people, symptoms can last up to 6 months.
 

What countries are affected by hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is generally not common in developed countries like Australia, with quality sanitation and water purification processes. However, even Australia can experience outbreaks. Most cases reported in Australia have been acquired overseas or contracted from someone who has travelled overseas – usually from developing countries without effective sanitation and good personal hygiene practices.

How can hepatitis A be prevented?

Hepatitis A can be prevented by practising good personal hygiene and safe sex. If you have been infected, you should stay home to prevent passing the virus to another person.  

If you are travelling overseas to countries where the virus is common, vaccination may be recommended before you travel. Travellers are advised to visit their general practitioner or travel medicine specialist 6-8 weeks before travelling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options. 

    If you are travelling overseas to areas where hepatitis A is common, then some extra safety practises (in addition to vaccination) should be undertaken, including:

    • Only drinking from safe water supplies, including bottled water.
    • Avoid uncooked food, including raw vegetables and fruit (unless it can be peeled).
    • Avoid shellfish.
    • Avoid unpackaged drinks.
    • Avoiding ice in drinks or food.
    • Avoiding food you cannot peel or boil.
    What is the difference between hepatitis A, B and C?

    Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are all viruses that infect the liver. Each type of hepatitis is caused by a different virus. Although they can have similar symptoms during the acute (early infection) phase, the three viruses are transmitted in differently and infect the body and liver in different ways. 

    One of the main differences between the diseases is that two of the three can be protected against with vaccination; there are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B, however, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

    VaccineHub offers general information only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice

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    Sources & Citations

    1. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 4.10 Hepatitis A. Available at http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-4 (accessed 4 April 2018).
    2. World Health Organisation, Hepatitis A. Available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs328/en/ (accessed 4 April 2018).
    3. Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm (accessed 4 April 2018).
    4. Victorian Government, Better Health Channel, Hepatitis A. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hepatitis-a (accessed 4 April 2018).
    5. NSW Government, Department of Health, Hepatitis A Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Hepatitis_A.aspx (accessed 4 April 2018).
    6. World Health Organisation WHO vaccine-preventable diseases: monitoring system. 2017 global summary. Available at http://apps.who.int/immunization_monitoring/globalsummary/schedules (accessed 4 April 2018).

    SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0142 - Date of preparation May 2018

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