WHAT IS IT?
VOL: 100, ISSUE: 18, PAGE NO: 30
WHAT IS IT?
- Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver.
- It is transmitted by the faecal-oral route and through the consumption of contaminated food or water.
- It is common in countries with poor standards of drinking water and sewage disposal, and where personal and food hygiene standards are poor.
- The illness can spread easily within families and where people live closely together.
- In most cases of hepatitis A reported in the UK, infection has occurred abroad.
- In 2002, a total of 1,318 hepatitis A infections were reported in England and Wales (Health Protection Agency, 2003).
- True incidence is unknown, as people with mild symptoms may not see a doctor.
- Southern and eastern Europe, Africa and parts of the middle and far East are high-risk areas.
- Incubation is 28 days on average but can be anywhere between 15-50 days (Crowcroft et al, 2001).
- Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, aches and pains, fever, loss of appetite).
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach pain and/or diarrhoea.
- Some people, particularly young children, may be asymptomatic.
- The illness tends to be more serious in older people. On rare occasions, it can cause fatal liver damage.
- Hepatitis A is diagnosed by a blood test for the antibody to the virus.
- Liver function tests usually show elevated results.
Vaccination offers 10 years’ protection against the virus and is recommended for:
- People visiting countries where hepatitis A is common;
- Injecting drug users;
- People whose sexual behaviour puts them at risk (for example those having unprotected anal sex);
- People whose work puts them at risk (for example those who come into contact with sewage);
- People who already have long-term liver disease.
- People who have been in close contact with an infected person or who are travelling at short notice. Immunoglobulin injections can offer short-term protection (three to six months).
When in countries where hepatitis A is common, infection can be prevented by avoiding:
- Ice in drinks;
- Tap water;
- Ice cream;
- Poorly cooked shellfish;
- Uncooked vegetables;
- Unpeeled fruit;
- Unpasteurised milk.
- As is the case with most viral illnesses, there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
- Jaundice can cause severe itching that may require treatment.
- Many people require more rest than usual.
- Generally, people are encouraged to eat and drink as well as possible.
- Alcohol and excessive exercise should be avoided.
British Liver Trust:
Health Protection Agency: