Who is most likely to get hepatitis A?
People travelling to an area where hepatitis A is common or where unsafe sanitary conditions are present (for example after a natural disaster) are at high risk for being exposed to hepatitis A.
You are also at risk of contracting hepatitis A if you live in the same house as an infected person or if you help to care for a person with hepatitis A.
Exposure to any contaminated food or water can lead to hepatitis A, as can handling fecal material of an infected person (such as changing the diapers of an infected child).
Hepatitis A can also be spread through sexual contact and IV drug use.
Anyone living in an area where the drinking water may be contaminated or where sanitation is inadequate also has a higher risk of being infected.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A causes a variety of symptoms including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain.
The most easily identifiable signs of the disease are the ones that indicate liver inflammation—jaundice (yellow skin and yellow in the whites of the eyes), grey or white-coloured stools, and tea-colored urine.
How is hepatitis A treated?
Currently, there is no treatment for hepatitis A. Around 25% of adults with hepatitis A require hospitalization, but most people recover on their own. However, they can still spread the disease by shedding the virus in their stools. Usually this shedding begins two to three weeks before the symptoms show up and ends once jaundice has occurred.
Can hepatitis A be prevented?
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by being vaccinated against it. In fact, this is the number one vaccine for preventing travel-related diseases.
The vaccine is given in a two-dose series spaced six months to one year apart. After the first dose, the majority of people (95%) are protected against the virus. After the second dose, almost 100% of people are protected.
Because of the long time between exposure to the virus and the development of the disease, the vaccine can be given right up to the time of departure and still have time to prevent infection.
What are the side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine?
Very few side effects have been reported from the hepatitis A vaccine. The most common ones are mild muscle aches, swelling, and redness at the injection site. Occasionally, low grade fevers, headaches, and a feeling of fatigue have been reported. These usually resolve within a day or two.
The vaccine is not right for everyone. Children less than twelve months old, pregnant women (unless otherwise advised by their physician), or anyone with a high fever or signs of an infection should not receive the vaccine. Nor should anyone who has developed an allergic reaction to a prior dose of hepatitis A vaccine or to any of the components of the vaccine (neomycin, albumin, formaldehyde).
Signs of an allergic reaction may include: fever over 40° C (104° F), seizures, hives, wheezing, trouble breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, or mouth.
Is hepatitis A prevalent in your travel destination?
If your travel plans include a destination where you might be exposed to hepatitis A, you should consider being vaccinated, and you must be especially careful about hygiene practices.