It’s caused by a virus that’s spread through:
- person-to-person contact
- consuming contaminated food, drinks or ice
- eating from or licking contaminated utensils.
The illness may last only a few weeks, but some people are seriously ill for up to six months. Hepatitis A usually doesn’t cause long-term damage like other types of hepatitis can.
In Australia, there are approximately 300–500 cases of hepatitis A reported per year. The number of cases reported has been declining nationally since the late 1990s (DoHA 2006). In 2011 there were 144 diagnosed cases of hepatitis A in Australia (Kirby Institute; 2012).
Symptoms can appear a few weeks after you pick up the infection, but usually, they appear at about 30 days. Some people, especially young children, can have hepatitis A without having any symptoms.
People who do have symptoms may have:
- abdominal pain
- nausea and loss of appetite
- fever and muscle/joint pains
- pain in the right side of your abdomen (where your liver is)
- dark urine
- clay-coloured bowel movements (poo)
- jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Some people get their symptoms back within a few months, but after that most people recover completely and develop immunity.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A blood test will confirm the virus.
There is no medication to treat hepatitis A. Your doctor may suggest rest and relief for any nausea or pain.
To protect your liver, you shouldn’t drink any alcohol at all while you have hepatitis.
If you have hepatitis A you are infectious and can spread the illness. This infectious period lasts from about two weeks before the symptoms appear to a week or so after they go away.
While you are infectious, you should touch people as little as possible, and you should not work as a food handler. If your children have hepatitis A, they should not attend preschool or school during the infectious period as they could spread the illness.
If you are diagnosed with hepatitis A, your doctor will need to enter details on the Notifiable Diseases database.
You can be effectively vaccinated against hepatitis A.
The virus can live on your hands for several hours and in food left at room temperature for much longer. The virus is resistant to heating and freezing. Washing your hands carefully after going to the toilet, before preparing food and before eating helps prevent infection.
Practicing safe sex will also help.
If you’re planning to visit a region with potentially risky hygiene practices, call to schedule a Hepatitis A vaccination appointment with one of our General Practitioners at 03 5229 5192 (Myers Street Family Medical Practice) or 03 5241 6129 (The Cottage Medical Centre). In those regions, you should avoid food and drinks that may include or be washed in contaminated water.
If someone in your house has hepatitis A, you should discuss with your doctor whether you should have an immunoglobulin injection, which gives short-term protection against some diseases.