'Hepatitis' means inflammation or swelling of the liver. It can be caused by chemicals or drugs, or by different kinds of viral infections.
Hepatitis A virus is one type of hepatitis. Infection with one type of hepatitis virus does not give protection against infection with other hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis A is not common in Australia, most people acquire their infection when travelling overseas.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include:
Symptoms of hepatitis usually show about four weeks after contact with the virus. Sometimes symptoms will appear between two and seven weeks.
Illness is usually mild and lasts one to three weeks. Almost all people recover completely.
Some people, particularly people with chronic liver disease, may experience more severe symptoms.
Small children who become infected usually have no symptoms.
Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver disease and deaths caused by hepatitis A do occur but are very rare. Occasionally people are hospitalised for the disease and can have relapsing symptoms after the disease has seemed to clear.
Large amounts of the hepatitis A virus are found in the faeces (poo) of an infected person. The virus can survive in the environment for several weeks in the right conditions.
Hepatitis A is usually transmitted when virus from an infected person is swallowed by another person through:
Outbreaks of hepatitis A have been traced to:
Infected people may pass on the virus to others typically from two weeks before they develop symptoms until one week after they have jaundice (yellowing of the eyeballs and skin). If they do not develop jaundice, they may pass the virus on for two weeks after they develop symptoms. People should be careful after this as the virus can be shed in faeces for longer periods.
Infection with hepatitis A continues to be a problem for people travelling overseas, especially people visiting developing countries where hepatitis A is common.
Those who have not had hepatitis A and who have not been vaccinated against it are at risk of catching the disease.
A safe and effective vaccine is available against hepatitis A.
The vaccine may take two weeks or more to provide the best protection. Two doses taken six months apart is recommended for long-lasting protection.
The vaccine can protect someone exposed to the virus if given within two weeks of contact.
Vaccination is recommended for the following higher-risk groups:
Everyone should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and dry them with a clean towel:
Imported frozen fruit products have been the source of numerous outbreaks of hepatitis A. Cooking these products prior to consuming eliminates the risk of hepatitis A and other potential foodborne infections.
If you have hepatitis A:
All people who have hepatitis A should check with their doctor before returning to work or school.
The following people have increased risk of passing hepatitis A on to others and must check with their doctor before returning to work or school:
A doctor will diagnose hepatitis A based on the patient's symptoms and will do a blood test for hepatitis A antibodies to confirm. Occasionally, hepatitis A DNA testing (PCR) may also be used for diagnosis on blood or faeces samples.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
Vaccination or an injection of immunoglobulin may prevent illness if given within two weeks of contact with the infectious person. Household contacts and sexual partners of an infectious person may need to be vaccinated or given immunoglobulin.
Rest, drinking a lot of fluid, and eating well are recommended for people with hepatitis A.
Avoiding alcohol will also reduce the stress on the liver.
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.