Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is contracted via the excrement of an infected person and is, therefore, usually spread through drinking water or eating food contaminated by human waste or sewage. Also, it can be spread from person to person by those with poor hygiene that handle and prepare food. Therefore, you are at greater risk if you are travelling to countries with poor sanitation, such as parts of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
There is an increased risk of contracting hepatitis A if you inject drugs using contaminated equipment or have sex with someone who already has hepatitis A (this is a particular risk for men who have sex with other men).
Hepatitis A is not usually serious and most people make a full recovery after a few months with no long-term effects and once it passes will often have lifelong immunity to it. Hepatitis A is only life-threatening, with a risk of liver failure, in rare cases and usually occurs in those of advanced age with a pre-existing liver condition.
The incubation period of hepatitis A is generally around 28 days. However, it can be up to 50 days.
Symptoms are often mild or non-existent in young children. Hepatitis A tends to show increasingly serious symptoms with advancing age. The symptoms that may appear after the incubation period include:
- joint and muscle pain
- loss of appetite
- feeling nauseous
- pain in the upper right part of your tummy
- feeling generally unwell and lethargic
- a raised temperature
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- itchy skin
- dark urine and pale poo
Hepatitis A can typically be diagnosed through a blood test. However, there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A as the symptoms usually subside after a few months. However, if needed, prescriptions can be made to help alleviate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms, such as itchiness, nausea and vomiting.
Prevention & Vaccination
Vaccination gives a high level of protection against contracting hepatitis A infection. The vaccination should ideally be administered two weeks before your travel departure date. However, if needed, it can be given up to a day before departure. A complete course of vaccination lasts up to 25 years. Extra doses of the vaccine are often recommended after 6 to 12 months if you need long-term protection. Combined vaccination doses may vary, so it is highly recommended that you discuss with our experts for further advice.
The needle used for the vaccination is very fine and may elicit only mild discomfort. However, after the vaccination has been administered you may experience some soreness, redness and hardening of the skin at the injection site or a small, painless lump that quickly disappears.
During your consultation with an Ahmeys travel health practitioner, you will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.