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Hepatitis A.

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VOL: 100, ISSUE: 18, PAGE NO: 30


- 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.



- Jaundice.



- 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:



NHS Direct:

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