Hepatitis A is an infectious illness that can be food or water borne. Epidemics occur particularly in developing countries. It is recognised initially by the symptoms. These can include fever, headache and nausea, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and jaundice. These symptoms can last for 3 weeks.
It is caused by the Hepatitis A virus entering the body either through the mouth, usually from unwashed hands and infected food and drink or through cuts and broken skin.
Possible routes of the infection are:
- eating fruit and vegetables contaminated with soil
- using contaminated needles to inject drugs
- contact with streams, ponds and similar watercourses
- drinking water contaminated with sewage, and
- eating shellfish taken from contaminated waters
It can be spread from person to person. If an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the toilet their hands may be contaminated with the virus. They can then pass the infection on, either by direct contact with other people, or, indirectly, by preparing food that someone else then eats.
- Thorough hand washing is vital:
- after going to the toilet
- before preparing or serving food or drink, and
- after handling raw meat and vegetables
- Avoid swallowing water when participating in water sports.
- People in close contact with someone suffering from Hepatitis A should seek medical advice as vaccination may be appropriate.
- Only drink mains or treated water and make sure that the water tank in your loft is covered to stop birds getting in.
- When on holiday abroad it may well be safer to use bottled water.
- Always wash fruit and vegetables. When on holiday abroad it may be safer to use bottled water to do this.
- Take care when changing the nappies of infected babies.
- People suffering from Hepatitis A should be given their own towel and flannel to use.
- Intravenous drug users should always use sterile needles.
- Hepatitis A can be contracted abroad, especially in areas where there is poor sanitation and hygiene. If you intend travelling to a country where Hepatitis A is common, talk to your doctor about having an injection before you go. Such injections can help to protect you for up to 12 months.
You should seek medical advice from your doctor about treatment.
In some cases it may be necessary to collect specimens of faeces for further analysis. An officer will contact you and decide whether this is necessary.
Where samples are felt necessary, special boxes and bottles will be left which may be collected or taken to the laboratory at Noble's Hospital as soon as the specimen has been provided.