Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is spread through contaminated water and food, especially shellfish or through person to person contact where personal hygiene is poor (faecal-oral route). Hepatitis A occurs worldwide, mostly in countries where sanitation is poor. It is now rare in Western Europe, Scandinavia, North America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Most cases imported into Britain have been contracted in the Indian sub-continent. The acute illness of all forms of hepatitis is similar and symptoms include mild fever, gastro-intestinal upset, nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Jaundice may also occur. Infection with hepatitis A results in lifelong immunity.
Vaccination is recommended for travel to areas where drinking water may be unsafe and where hygiene and sanitation is poor. Personal prevention is focused on ensuring that food and water are safe. Avoidance of certain foods such as shellfish, salads, unwashed fruit and vegetables and raw or undercooked meat products is advised. Good personal hygiene is also very important.
Immunity to hepatitis A is achieved by vaccination; the vaccine is available either singly or in a combination form with other vaccines and is given in either adult or paediatric doses. As with all vaccines the clinical staff will advise during the consultation on all aspects of the procedure including vaccine dose schedule, contraindications to vaccination, any possible interactions with other vaccines or medications and the range of possible adverse effects from the specific vaccine. Written product information to retain for reference is also always provided.