Interview with Dr Joe Kosterich MBBS, General Practitioner and Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Virtual Medical Centre and Parenthub.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral illness which is spread through the faecal contamination. This means that one gets it by consuming food or water carrying the virus.
It affects the liver and gut. The illness is generally mild and is of itself non-fatal. It is not to be confused with Hepatitis B or C which are more serious and caught in other ways (for example through blood products or shared needles).
When does it occur?
Hepatitis A is typically spread through consuming food or water which carries the virus. This is called faecal oral spread.
In Australia it is quite rare but in many parts of the world it is endemic. Travellers to developing countries need to take precautions and should speak to their doctor regarding immunisation. While overseas practice good personal hygiene and always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water after going to the toilet and before handling any food.
The incubation period can be up to six weeks.
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What problems does Hepatitis A cause?
For most the symptoms are mild and may last only a few days. For some, the symptoms may be more severe and can last up to a few weeks. The symptoms of Hepatitis A are typically nausea and tiredness. Some may get vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.
Fever, body aches and headaches may also occur. The cardinal symptom is jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) which reflects that the liver is affected.
Not everyone gets this.
What can be done about it?
There is no specific treatment or cure for Hepatitis A. It runs a course of a few days to a few weeks and the body eliminates the virus.
You will be advised to rest and take plenty of fluids.
Treatment is based on symptoms so some people may need anti-nausea or anti-diarrhoeal medications.
Do not share food, water or utensils with others.
Close family and friends may be advised to have a Hepatitis A vaccination.
You are not allowed to donate blood for a period of time after having Hepatitis A as it can (albeit rarely) be spread by blood.
For more information on Hepatitis A, including symptoms and risk factors, see Hepatitis A.