About Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A Facts

What is hepatitis A?

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.

Is hepatitis A a serious issue in Wales?

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.

Who has hepatitis A in Wales?

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).

How can I tell if someone has hepatitis A?

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:

  • Fever;
  • Fatigue;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Abdominal pain;
  • Joint pain;
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes (jaundice);
  • Dark urine and your faeces (poo) are pale;
  • Itchy skin.

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:

  • Getting plenty of rest;
  • Take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have any aches and pains – though how much you can take depends on how well your liver is working; please ask your GP for advice;
  • To reduce itching, try to maintain a cool, well-ventilated environment and wear loose clothing. Avoiding hot baths or showers is recommended too. Your GP may recommend using an antihistamine in severe cases;
  • To reduce nausea and vomiting, it is recommended that you eat smaller, lighter meals. Your GP can prescribe a medication called an anti-emetic if the problem persists;
  • Avoid alcohol – drinking alcohol can put additional strain on your liver, so avoid it until your GP says it's safe.

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.

How can you get hepatitis A?

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.

How do I protect myself from hepatitis A?

  • Thoroughly wash hands after using the toilet and before food preparation;
  • Ensure good personal hygiene;
  • Practice safe sex to reduce the risk of sexual transmission;
  • Men may avoid getting hepatitis A by washing hands after sex (buttocks, groin and penis too, ideally), changing condoms between anal and oral sex, using latex gloves for fingering or fisting, using a barrier for rimming (such as a square of latex) and not sharing sex toys or douching equipment.

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.

How do I protect others from getting hepatitis A?

If you have hepatitis A, it's also important to try to reduce the risk of others getting the infection from you.

You should:

  • Stay off work or school until at least a week after your jaundice or other symptoms started;
  • Avoid preparing food for others if possible;
  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly – particularly after going to the toilet and before preparing food;
  • Avoid sharing towels and wash soiled laundry separately on a hot cycle;
  • Clean the toilet, flush handles and taps more frequently than usual;
  • Avoid having sex while you're infectious – hepatitis A is most infectious from around two weeks before the symptoms start until about a week after they first develop. Ask your GP for advice about this.

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.

If I think I’ve put myself at risk of hepatitis A what should I do?

You should go and get advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.

Where can I go for advice and support about if I am worried about hepatitis A?

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.

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