Hepatitis A Virus fact sheet
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis means inflammation or swelling of the liver. Hepatitis A is an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.
What are the symptoms?
- Feeling unwell, tiredness, aches and pains, fever, nausea, lack of appetite, abdominal discomfort followed by dark urine, pale stools and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
- Small children may have no symptoms.
- Illness usually lasts one to three weeks and most people have a full recovery.
The time taken to show symptoms after contact with the virus is usually four weeks, but can range from two to seven weeks.
How is it spread?
Hepatitis A virus is present in the faeces (poo) of an infected person. Hepatitis A is passed on when the virus from an infected person is swallowed by another person through:
- eating contaminated food
- drinking contaminated water
- handling contaminated objects (eg soiled nappies from an infected person)
- direct contact (including sexual) with an infected person.
Infected people can pass the virus to others from two weeks before they get sick until one week after they show jaundice, or two weeks after they become sick, if they do not develop jaundice (about three weeks in total).
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on the person’s symptoms and confirmed by blood tests.
How is it treated?
There is no special treatment for hepatitis A and care is to generally manage symptoms.
How is it prevented?
Immunisation is highly effective against becoming infected with hepatitis A and can be combined with hepatitis B, if required.
Two vaccines at least six months apart will provide long-term protection against hepatitis A disease.
Appropriately treated water, safe sewage disposal and appropriate hand washing assists in the prevention of spreading hepatitis A.
To reduce the risk of getting/spreading Hepatitis A always wash your hands:
- After going to the toilet
- Before preparing or eating food or drink
- After handling anything with body fluids such as nappies and condoms
Who should get immunised?
People wishing to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, should seek medical advice from their general practitioner (GP).
Those of increased risk of getting Hepatitis A, includes:
- Travellers to, or those living in, countries where Hepatitis A is common (over the age of one)
- People who may be exposed to Hepatitis A in their job:
- staff working in early childhood education and care.
- carers of people with developmental disabilities.
- plumbers and sewerage workers.
- sex workers
- people living and working in remote indigenous communities
- People whose lifestyle puts them at increased risk:
- people who have anal sexual intercourse.
- men who have sex with men.
- people who inject drugs.
- People with intellectual disabilities.
- People living in correctional facilities
- People with chronic liver disease, liver or solid organ transplant recipients and or those chronically infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia; and people who provide regular care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in these areas.
What should I do if I have had contact with someone who has hepatitis A?
If the contact was less than two weeks prior and you have not been previously diagnosed with Hepatitis A or had an immunisation, you may be offered a vaccination or Normal Human Immunoglobulin. This will prevent you becoming unwell and spreading the infection.
People who may be identified as a contact, may include:
- Immediate family, household members and sexual partners, including people who stayed and shared bathroom facilities with the infected person.
- People who consumed uncooked food prepared by the infected person.
- If the infected person is a food handler, other food handlers in the same establishment.
- If the infected person is in nappies, people who provided direct care to the person.
- If the infected person attends childcare or preschool, other children and adults in the same classroom or care group.
Contacts may be advised to exclude themselves from high-risk work or activities, until the period of them becoming potentially unwell, has passed.
What should I do if I have Hepatitis A?
While infectious you should take precautions to reduce the risk of spread to others. The time you are infectious is usually until one week after the onset of jaundice or two weeks from the onset of any symptoms. Precautions to take in this time include:
- Practice good hand hygiene, including washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and drying them with a clean towel.
- Not prepare food or drink for other people.
- Not share eating or drinking utensils with other people.
- Not share linen and towels with other people.
- Not have sex.
- Stay away from childcare, school or work.
- Clean the toilet seat and door handle after using.
Call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 to speak with a clinical nurse consultant.