What is hepatitis A & how do you catch it?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. It’s usually spread via the stool of someone infected. Parts of the world with poor sanitation, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs are most at risk of contracting the infection.
Generally the areas with the highest cases of hepatitis A are those where sanitation and food hygiene are poor. These include parts of Africa, the Indian subcontinents, the Far East, the Middle East and Central and South America.
You can contract hepatitis A in a number of ways:
• From someone with the infection not washing their hands thoroughly and preparing food which you eat
• Washing hands in contaminated water and preparing food that you eat
• Drinking contaminated water (including ice cubes)
• Eating raw or undercooked seafood sourced from contaminated water
• Being in close contact with someone who has the infection
• Having intercourse with someone with the infection (particularly men who have sex with men)
• Injecting drugs using contaminated equipment
The infection is at its most contagious stage in the two weeks before symptoms appear, up until about a week after the symptoms first show.
Signs & symptoms
Hepatitis A symptoms usually develop approximately four weeks after becoming infected, however some people don’t experience any.
• Feeling tired
• Generally feeling unwell
• Pain in joints and muscles
• High temperature
• Decrease or loss of appetite
• Nausea or vomiting
• Tummy pain in the upper-right area
• Yellowing of skin and eyes
• Dark urine and pale stools
• Itchy skin
Symptoms usually subside within a couple of months. If you have symptoms, it’s always best to speak to your GP.
Although there’s no cure for hepatitis A, it will normally pass on its own within a couple of months. If you’re struggling with any symptoms or you haven’t started to improve within a couple of months, speak to your GP for further advice.
The hepatitis A vaccine isn’t routinely given because the risk is so low in the UK, but if you are travelling to a country with a risk of the disease, vaccination is recommended.
How long does the hepatitis A vaccination last?
A booster is recommended after six-12 months to provide protection for 25 years.
Hepatitis A vaccination
Vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended if you're travelling to countries where there are poor levels of sanitation and hygiene, and hepatitis A is common.
Ask your GP, pharmacy or travel clinic if you should have the hepatitis A vaccine if you're travelling to:
the Middle East
South and Central America
The vaccination against hepatitis A is usually given as a single initial injection, with a second dose 6 to 12 months later. Two doses should protect you for at least 20 years.
You should preferably have the initial dose at least 2 weeks before you leave, although it can be given up to the day of your departure if needed.
Jabs that offer combined protection against hepatitis A and hepatitis B or typhoid are also available if you're likely to also be at risk of these conditions.