Hepatitis A

There are many types of viral hepatitis that are transmitted in different ways. Hepatitis A is an acute (short-term but quite severe) infection of the liver by the hepatitis A Virus (HAV).

Transmission

Hepatitis A is transmitted when even tiny amounts of faeces from a person carrying the virus is transferred to another person’s mouth.

This can happen when:

  • Rimming (oral-anal sex) without dams
  • Fingering/ fisting the anus or handling condoms after anal sex and then putting fingers in the mouth
  • Food or water is contaminated and is ingested
  • Sharing contaminated food, from communal food bowls. In addition, eating utensils can carry the virus
  • Touching nappies, linen and towels soiled with traces of faeces

People carrying HAV can transmit the virus about a week after exposure, before they start showing any symptoms. Following acute hepatitis A, most people develop immunity. This means they have lifelong protection against hepatitis A and they are no longer able to transmit the virus.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Fatigue, fever and general feeling unwell
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale coloured faeces and dark urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Sometimes there are no symptoms

Symptoms usually last less than two months. People with pre-existing liver damage may be more susceptible to complications, but most people make a full recovery from this type of hepatitis.

It is not unusual for a doctor to advise a person that is jaundiced and unwell to take time off work. This is common among many professions, including in hospitality and the medical profession as hepatitis A is highly contagious.

Prevention

Wash hands with soap and water after going to the toilet and before preparing food. Wash towels and bed linen in warm soapy water. Use condoms, dams, finger cots or gloves for anal play, especially rimming, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Put condoms on butt plugs and dildos. Avoid sharing utensils, food, drinks and cigarettes.

Immunisation is available from doctors and sexual health centres which can provide long term immunity. Often more than one dose of vaccination is required for long term immunity. There are currently hepatitis A/hepatitis B combination vaccines.  Sex workers should consider having the combined hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccination.