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Facts About...

HEPATITIS A


What is it?

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) causes liver infection. Symptoms usually develop quickly and last 1 - 2 weeks and include fever, malaise, fatigue, muscle ache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. After a few days, jaundice may occur. Jaundice is a condition where the skin and the whites of eyes turn yellow. Body fluids such as urine may also darken. Symptoms of hepatitis A start within 50 days, usually 28-30 days, after being infected with the virus.

Symptoms may be very mild and can last for weeks or even months. Some people with hepatitis A get no symptoms at all. Hepatitis A infections in children under 6 years of age are often only recognized by laboratory tests.

Hepatitis A is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Health Department.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis A virus is spread person to person through the fecal oral route. The virus is found in the feces of an infected person, with the highest level of virus in the feces in the 2 weeks prior to jaundice. This is the period of the greatest likelihood of spread. The virus is usually spread by eating or drinking food, water or beverages contaminated with the feces. Failure to wash hands properly after using the toilet or changing diapers will allow the virus to spread from person to person.

Occasionally outbreaks occur when sewage contaminates shellfish or other foods that are eaten raw.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Family members and close contacts can receive injections of immune globulin to boost their resistance to the infection. Vaccine against hepatitis A is also available for people who are concerned or at risk of infection with hepatitis A. Once you have become infected with hepatitis A, you are immune from further infection for life. There is no carrier state for hepatitis A.

How can I protect myself?

  • The best way to prevent spread of the disease is to make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly:
    • after using the toilet
    • after changing a diaper
    • before handling food
  • People in significant occupations (food handlers, child care centre employees as well as attendees, health care providers) must be excluded from work for 14 days from the date of onset of symptoms, or in cases where jaundice develops, exclusion from work for 7 days after onset of jaundice
  • Children and persons providing care to others should be educated and taught about when and how to practice hand hygiene (e.g., washing hands properly).
  • In child care centres, strict cleanliness and personal hygiene must be followed. Frequently touched surfaces including toys should be cleaned and disinfected often. Kitchen surfaces must also be washed and sanitized often.
  • People who work with non-human primates, particularly chimpanzees, should pay special attention to personal hygiene and cleanliness. Consult with your physician to find out if you should be immunized against hepatitis A.
  • Travellers to countries with high rates of HAV should be vaccinated against hepatitis A prior to travel.
  • People with hepatitis B or C infection should be vaccinated against hepatitis A to prevent further damage to the liver.
  • Avoid sexual practices including oral sex that may permit contact with stool.

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613

 

April 21, 2016