Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a contagious form of inflammation of the liver and it’s caused by the hepatitis A virus. After infection it can take an average of three to six weeks before the first symptoms of the disease manifest themselves.

How can you catch hepatitis A?

Infection usually occurs as a result of consuming contaminated food or water, or because of inadequate sanitary provisions. It can also be caused by handling contaminated objects. Sewers that discharge their contents into water in which people swim constitute a direct source of infection. However, eating shellfish like shrimps, oysters and mussels can form an indirect source of infection because these feed on organic matter. Other foods like raw vegetables, fruit, salad and scooped ice cream can also cause infection if they are washed in contaminated water or handled by someone who hasn’t washed his hands properly. Be careful; even if water looks perfectly clean it can still be contaminated.

Where can you catch hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is extremely contagious and can be contracted all over the world, except in ‘western’ countries.

What are the symptoms?

There can be obvious complaints, but even someone without clear symptoms can still have the disease. The most noticeable symptoms of hepatitis A are feeling generally poorly, fever, headache, tiredness, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, pain in your upper abdomen or diarrhoea. Sometimes your urine will be darker in colour, your faeces will be discoloured and your skin and the whites of your eyes will take on a yellowish hue. From well before any symptoms become evident until after the jaundiced phase, a person infected with hepatitis A can pass it on to others. As a rule you will make a complete recovery from hepatitis A. However, for adults in particular it can make you very ill for several weeks, or even months.

How can you avoid catching hepatitis A?

Nowadays there are very effective vaccines against hepatitis A which offer at least 25 years protection.