Hepatitis A is also known as “infectious hepatitis”. It is highly contagious, ranging in mild to severe inflammation of the liver (Cheonis, 2001); however no chronic (long term) infection persists. There is an average incubation period of four weeks, after which symptoms may occur (WA Department of Health, 2005). Once a person has been exposed to hepatitis A, they become immune to future infection. All Australian jurisdictions are required to report diagnosis of hepatitis A to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (Department of Health and Ageing, 2005).
Infection usually lasts only a few weeks and causes symptoms similar to other hepatitis viruses such as tiredness, loss of appetite, fever and chills, abdominal pain and jaundice. These symptoms usually occur about four weeks after infection in adults and older children. In very young children, there may not be noticeable symptoms (WA Department of Health, 2005). In most cases a person who has become infected will be unwell for up to two weeks, however fatigue may persist a little longer.
Transmission and prevention
Hepatitis A is transmitted through the faecal-oral route by contaminated food, water or unwashed hands. Basic hand washing practices assist in curbing hepatitis A transmission. Warm, soapy, running water should be used for at least 15 seconds after going to the toilet, changing a nappy, sexual contact or any other practice involving potential contact with human faeces. Hands should then be thoroughly dried with disposable towels. Precautions should also be taken during sexual practices, such as using dental dams during oral-anal sex. Dental dams are available from some pharmacies, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics.
In a sewerage environment the hepatitis A virus can survive for several weeks. Seafood grown in contaminated water is at risk of carrying the virus. Hard and soft clams, oysters and mussels have all been implicated in outbreaks. Hepatitis A appears to be more resistant to heat than other viruses, inactivating at over 85 ºC. The virus cannot grow or multiply in food, but it can survive after contact for several hours or remain on cooking utensils and surface areas for up to 30 days.
Testing and treatments
Testing is done with a simple blood test. There are no medical treatments for hepatitis A, however bed rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluids are recommended for a quick recovery (WA Department of Health, 2005). Hepatitis A is an acute infection and will not become a chronic (long term) infection. Some people can still work while experiencing symptoms of hepatitis A, however people working with food or drink, or in professions requiring close personal contact (such as child and health care workers), should not work for at least one week after the onset of jaundice (WA Department of Health, 2005).
There is a vaccine available for hepatitis A, which is recommended as part of a childhood vaccination program and for people planning on travelling overseas, particularly to developing countries (WA Department of Health, 2005). Once a person has been infected with hepatitis A, they develop immunity and will not become re-infected in the future.
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. (2005). Australia's notifiable diseases status, 2002: Annual report of the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System - bloodborne diseases [online]. Retrieved January 4, 2007, from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/content/cda-pubs-cdi-2004-cdi2801-htm-cdi2801b.htm
Cheonis, N. 2001, Glossary [online]. Retrieved January 4, 2007, from http://www.thebody.com/sfaf/summer01/glossary.html
NSW Health (2005). New South Wales factsheet: Hepatitis A [online]. Retrieved January 4, 2007, from http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infect/pdf/hepA_cdfs.pdf
NSW Food Authority. (July 2006). Fact sheet: Hepatitis A [online]. Retrieved January 4, 2007, from http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/pdf/hepatitis%20A.pdf
Victorian Trades Hall Council's (VTHC) Occupational Health and Safety Unit (n.d.) Hazards; Infectious diseases, Hepatitis A. Retrieved January 5, 2007, from http://www.ohsrep.org.au/index.cfm?section=10&Category=63&viewmode=content&contentid=105
WA Department of Health, Sexual Health and Blood-Borne Virus Program (2005). Hepatitis A [pamphlet]. Perth, Western Australia
Page last updated: Wednesday 15 September, 2010