Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable viral infection of the liver that is mainly spread by eating the poo of an infected person through contaminated food or inadequate hand-washing, but can also be sexually acquired.
Although numbers are small related to sexually-acquired hepatitis A, there is a continuing increase in cases with specific outbreaks occurring in social groups, such as men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs.
Unvaccinated people returning from countries where hepatitis A is common occasionally present with the illness. Cases of hepatitis A have been reported among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Hepatitis A can only be an acute, or a short term, infection which usually lasts no more than 6 months. Many people with viral hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. For hepatitis A, symptoms usually appear within several weeks to several months of exposure and can last up to 6 months. Symptoms can include:
Most adults with hepatitis A feel sick for a few months and usually recover completely without lasting liver damage. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death.
There is no specific cure or treatment for hepatitis A, but there are ways to relieve the symptoms, such as:
You can find out more regarding treating hepatitis A on the NHS Direct Wales website.
Your body will clear the infection but this can take several months. Once you clear the infection, you’re immune and cannot get it again - but you can get other types of hepatitis – see hepatitis B, hepatitis C.
People usually get hepatitis A by having close contact with a person who is infected, from food or drinks prepared by someone who is infected, or by eating shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water. It can also be sexually acquired, MSM with multiple partners are at higher risk of sexually acquiring the virus.
You can read more about the causes of hepatitis A on the NHS Direct Wales website.
There is also a vaccination for hepatitis A – ask at your local sexual health clinic or find out more about the vaccine at NHS Direct Wales.
If you have hepatitis A, it's also important to try to reduce the risk of others getting the infection from you.
Any close contacts, such as people who live in the same house as you, may be advised to have the hepatitis A vaccine to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
You can find out about treating yourself and protecting others from hepatitis A on the NHS Direct Wales website.
You should go and get advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.
NHS Direct Wales has extensive information about hepatitis A on its website. You can also seek advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.