Hepatitis A Virus

Hepatitis A Virus

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What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis means inflammation or swelling of the liver. Hepatitis A is an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feeling unwell, aches and pains, fever, nausea, lack of appetite, abdominal discomfort followed by dark urine, pale stools and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Small children may have no symptoms.
  • Illness usually lasts one to three weeks and people usually have a full recovery.

The time taken to show symptoms after contact with the virus is usually four weeks, but can range from two to seven weeks.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis A virus is present in the faeces of an infected person.  Hepatitis A is passed on when the virus from an infected person is swallowed by another person through:

  • eating contaminated food
  • drinking contaminated water
  • handling contaminated objects (eg soiled nappies from an infected person)
  • direct contact (including sexual) with an infected person.

Infected people can pass the virus to others from two weeks before they get sick until one week after they show jaundice (about three weeks in total).

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on the person’s symptoms and confirmed by blood tests.

How is it treated?

There is no special treatment for hepatitis A.

How is it prevented?

Immunisation protects against catching hepatitis A.

When vaccination against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses is indicated, a combination vaccine may be used.

Since mid-2017 there has been a hepatitis A outbreak in Australia mostly affecting men who have sex with men (MSM). In response to this outbreak the Tasmanian Government is funding free hepatitis A vaccine to all MSM aged 16 to 69 years.

Two vaccines at least six months apart will provide long-term protection against hepatitis A disease.

Immunisation is available through General Practitioners and Sexual Health Clinics.

Who should get immunised?

  • Travellers (over the age of one) to areas where hepatitis A is common.
  • People who may be exposed to hepatitis A in their job:
  • people living and working in remote indigenous communities
  • staff working in early childhood education and care
  • carers of people with developmental disabilities
  • plumbers and sewerage workers
  • sex workers.
  • People whose lifestyle puts them at increased risk:
  • people who have anal sexual intercourse
  • men who have sex with men
  • people who inject drugs.
  • People with intellectual disabilities.
  • People with chronic liver disease, liver or solid organ transplant recipients and or those chronically infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia; and people who provide regular care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in these areas.

What should I do if I have had contact with someone who has hepatitis A?

The following people should see a doctor straight away after they have had contact with someone with hepatitis A, even if they are well.

  • Immediate family, household members and sexual partners, including people who stayed and shared bathroom facilities with the infected person.
  • People who consumed uncooked food prepared by the infected person.
  • If the infected person is a food handler, other food handlers in the same establishment.
  • If the infected person is in nappies, people who provided direct care to the person.
  • If the infected person attends childcare or preschool, other children and adults in the same classroom or care group.

These people may be offered hepatitis A vaccine or Normal Human Immunoglobulin to prevent them from becoming sick and from spreading the infection.

What should I do if I have Hepatitis A?

Everyone should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and dry them with a clean towel:

  • after going to the toilet
  • before eating
  • before preparing food or drink
  • after handling objects such as nappies and condoms.

If you have hepatitis A you should also adopt the following advice until at least one week after the onset of jaundice.

  • Do not prepare food or drink for other people.
  • Do not share eating or drinking utensils with other people.
  • Do not share linen and towels with other people.
  • Do not have sex.
  • Stay away from childcare, school or work.

Additional resources

Call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 to speak with a clinical nurse consultant.

31 July 2019