Hepatitis A

Cause and Mode of Transmission

Hepatitis A is a potentially serious disease caused by a virus which attacks the liver. Anyone can get it. The virus is transmitted through food or water that has been contaminated by the Hepatitis A virus. It can be passed by someone infected with the virus who doesn't wash his/her hands properly after a bowel movement and then touches something you eat. It is hence confined to countries where hygienic standards and sanitation are poor. Hepatitis A outbreaks may occur in these areas due to inadequate sewage and water purification systems.

 

Symptoms

  • Flu-like symptoms including weakness, headache and fever.
  • Stomach cramps, diarrhoea and jaundice (which is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes). These symptoms can last for several weeks and hospitalisation may be required.

Adults develop more severe symptoms as a result of Hepatitis A, while young children may not show any outward signs of infection apart from having mild flu-like symptoms or an upset stomach. Death is rare but may occur in up to 3 per cent of older people, usually with acute liver failure.

Once you've had the Hepatitis A virus, you develop a lifelong immunity to it. Unlike Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, there are no carriers and no long-term consequences of having had Hepatitis A such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. However, for people with chronic liver disease such as Hepatitis C, infection with another virus such as Hepatitis A can be a serious health risk. People with Hepatitis C are encouraged to be vaccinated against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, as are other patients with chronic liver diseases.

 

Treatment

There is no treatment available for Hepatitis A. Like many viral infections, it will naturally run its course. However, there is a vaccine that easily and effectively protects you from Hepatitis A. Vaccination is recommended at any time. The vaccine will prevent you from contracting Hepatitis A while travelling, and from being a potential domestic source of the virus when you return.

 

Prevention by Vaccination

There is no cure for Hepatitis A, but it can be prevented by vaccination. Children under two years of age cannot be vaccinated. You do not necessarily need to be vaccinated if you are travelling in Canada, the US, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Japan. You should consider being vaccinated if you are travelling anywhere else.

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