What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infection affecting the liver. It is uncommon in New Zealand so it is very important to stop it spreading through the community. Hepatitis A is caused by a virus, which is found in the bowel motions of those with the infection. It can be spread from person-to-person or by swallowing food or water that has been contaminated. The Hepatitis A virus can survive for a long time in damp moist conditions.
Hepatitis A usually causes a mild illness in children, who may not even show any symptoms. The disease is more serious in adults and can last for several months. Fortunately recovery can be complete without leaving permanent damage. An attack of Hepatitis A develops a lifetime immunity, which prevents it occurring again.
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What are the Symptoms?
It can take a few weeks after coming into contact with Hepatitis A before a person who has caught the infection starts to feel unwell. The time between contact and first symptoms can be 2-7 weeks. Symptoms include:
- Generally feeling unwell
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach upsets and pains
- Mild fever
- General aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
If you or your child has any of these symptoms, please see your GP and tell them you have been a contact of someone with Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A can be diagnosed by a blood test.
How do you catch Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is spread by:
- Eating contaminated food, water or milk.
- Close personal contact and poor personal hygiene
- Eating or drinking things handled by an infected person
How long is someone infectious with Hepatitis A?
People with Hepatitis A infection are can pass it on to other people when they are infectious. They will be infectious for 1-2 weeks before they start to feel ill and until 1 week after they develop jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).
How can the spread of Hepatitis A be prevented?
Careful and correct hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.
- Wash hands with soap and dry them well
- Wash hands after using the toilet, before preparing food, and before eating anything.
Don’t Share Food and Drink: Infected people should not share food, drink bottles, cups or spoons with other people.
Stay at Home while Infectious: People will Hepatitis A will be asked to stay away from school, work, and social gatherings during their infectious period.
Hepatitis A Immunisation
Hepatitis A immunisation works very well for preventing infection in those who are not immune. Immunisation is also sometimes used to control the spread of Hepatitis A through the community. Hepatitis A is not common in New Zealand.
For long term protection by immunisation, two doses given 6 months apart are recommended. Immunisation is available from your GP.
When might immunisation be offered?
- The risk of transmission of Hepatitis A is high
- Very close family contacts
- Customers of a food outlet
- Co-workers in a food outlet
- There is a large outbreak in the community
- Travellers are going to places where Hepatitis A is common
Hepatitis A Immunoglobulin
Immunoglobulin is sometimes used to help control the spread of Hepatitis A through the community for children aged <12 months and adults aged >40 years for whom immunisation is not effective.
Immunoglobulin gives short-term protection and is effective for a period of 2-3 months. It is an extract of antibodies taken from blood donations.