Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. The hepatitis A virus is transferred through contact with contaminated food and water or with an infected person. The illness is self-limiting and does not cause chronic infection.

Cases of hepatitis A are reported across all age groups in New Zealand, as stated by Immune NZ. Many of the cases reported overseas travel immediately prior to symptoms (during incubation period). In 2015, there was a small cluster of cases linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries.

How do you get hepatitis A?

The Hepatitis A virus is transmitted via the faecal-oral route by consumption of contaminated food such as raw shellfish, water or milk or close contact with an infected person/persons.

There are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk from this infection as stated by Immune NZ, these include:

  • Injecting drug users
  • People with chronic liver disease or who at risk of developing chronic liver disease.
  • Occupational groups who may be exposed to faeces, these include:
  • Employees of early childhood centres
    Healthcare workers
  • Sex industry workers
  • People working with sewerage and members of the armed forces.
  • Travellers to moderate and high-risk countries
  • Men who have sex with men.

Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Abdominal Pains
  • Dark Urine
  • Pale coloured faeces
  • Jaundice (yellow colour of skin and eyes)

Symptoms are usually seen in older children and adults from 15 -50 days after infection. Young children may not have any symptoms. Symptoms can last for several weeks but no more than two months.

Information received from The Immunisation Advisory Centre & the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) 2018.

Can I have treatment for hepatitis A?

There is no specific treatment for the Hepatitis A infection. Please see your GP for advice regarding what and when to take medication to relieve pain and fever.

What are the risks of complications due to having hepatitis A?

As the NZ Immunisation Advisory Centre advises, it is very rare to develop severe liver problems following being infected with Hepatitis A, but the risk of complications does increase the older person is and also higher in those with any pre-existing liver disease.

How do I prevent myself from getting Hepatitis A?

Hand hygiene is the gold standard for preventing the spread of Hepatitis A. Using soap and water to wash your hands –

  • After using the toilet or changing nappies
  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before eating

A vaccine is also available, but it is not funded, for people at risk of infection. CDC (The Centre of Disease and Control) advises the best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination with the Hepatitis A vaccine. To get the full benefit of the Hepatitis A vaccine, it is recommended that more than one vaccination is needed. For more information, please see your Family Doctor.

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?

The NZ Immunisation Advisory Centre 2018 recommends the following people get a vaccine:

  • All children at age 1 year
  • Travellers to countries where Hepatitis A is common
  • Family and Caregivers of adoptees from countries where Hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of recreational drugs
  • People with chronic liver diseases including those with Hepatitis B or C
  • People with blood clotting disorders
  • Any person wishing to obtain immune protection.

Other helpful links:


© The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand 2016