Hepatitis is the Greek term for liver inflammation.
Hepatitis A is caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV).
Viral hepatitis can be caused by many other viruses – including hepatitis B, C, D and E.
HAV is acquired by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by the faeces of infected individuals.
Outbreaks can occur in countries where the water supply is contaminated by sewage. Contamination of shellfish has led to major outbreaks. Close contact with infected individuals can also transmit infection – and this is a particular concern in schools where children may not be careful about handwashing after using the toilet facilities.
A person infected with HAV is infectious just before the onset of symptoms and can shed the virus for many weeks afterwards.
Consider a hepatitis A vaccination if you are visiting countries with limited hygiene.
Good hygiene reduces the risk of infection:
If a household member is infected with the type A virus, the following is recommended:
Your doctor will advise on vaccinations for household and other close contacts.
A vaccine for type A hepatitis is available. People receive one injection and then a booster dose after 6 to 12 month.
The protection provided by the vaccine exceeds 95 per cent, and it lasts for at least 10 years.
The vaccine is recommended before travelling to countries where the general standard of hygiene is unreliable, eg Asian, South American, and African countries.
Seek advice if your job involves food handling.
The diagnosis is made on the basis of an antibody test, which will demonstrate the presence of antibodies against hepatitis A virus in the patient's blood.
IgM antibodies suggest recent infection ( or vaccine) and IgG antibodies suggest previous infection or successful vaccination.
Blood tests for liver function will reveal the severity of the liver damage and are monitored until recovery.
Those with severe hepatitis may require hospital admission and more detailed monitoring
In contrast to hepatits B and C, chronic (ongoing) infection does not occur. There is generally a total recovery and this leads to lifelong immunity.
There is no specific antiviral therapy.
Inpatient care may be required for those with more severe disease.
Based on a text by Professor Court Pedersen, consultant and Professor Ove Schaffalitzky de Muckadell, consultant
Last updated 01.04.2005