The Hepatitis A Vaccination is important for people who are travelling to certain countries around the world and specific groups with an increased risk of developing the infection n the UK.
Each year around 1.4 million cases of Hepatitis A occur around the world. In 2015, there were around 11,000 deaths from the infection.
It’s typically more common in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. In the ‘developing world’ around 90% of children have been infected by the age of 10. This means they tend to ‘build up’ antibodies and are immune by adulthood. The risk of developing Hepatitis A in Britain is small, however the chance is always there. Particularly if you’ve recently travelled to an ‘at-risk’ country or are apart of certain groups which are considered to have a greater chance of being infected.
What is Hepatitis A?
In basic terms, Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver. It can also be known as ‘infectious hepatitis’, however in Britain it’s generally known simply as Hepatitis A.
Typically it takes around two to weeks from the initial infection to symptoms developing. In some cases there can be few symptoms at all, however this is usually only in younger people and babies.
Classic symptoms of Hepatitis A include diarrhoea, a fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, jaundice and nausea. They can last up to eight weeks if not treated by a medical professional.
Drinking water or eating food, which has been contaminated with faeces, usually spreads Hepatitis A.
In addition seafood which has not been property prepared and cooked can also be a ‘common’ cause of the Hepatitis A infection too. Equally, it can also be spread through ‘close contact’ with an infectious person.
The best ‘method’ to avoid the infection is to get the vaccine if needed. People should also wash their hands regularly in clean water and properly cook food.
Apart from the Hepatitis A vaccine, no ‘real’ treatment is available. The general recommended advice is to get plenty of rest and take medication for diarrhea and nausea. This should always be taken with the advice of a professional healthcare worker such as a Nurse or Doctor.
How is Hepatitis A Spread?
Generally Hepatitis A is spread by:
- Eating food or drinking water which is contaminated by faeces
- Eating undercooked seafood, in particular shellfish
- Being in close contact with someone who has the infection
- Travelling to a country which may be at ‘high risk’
- Having sex with someone who has the infection
- Injecting drugs or using drug equipment contaminated with Hepatitis A
The list above is not definitive; there may be other ways it can be spread. For more information please speak to your local Doctor.
Who is at risk of Hepatitis A in the UK?
Britain has a higher standard of hygiene and sanitation than other parts of the world, so the chance of developing the disease is less likely. However certain groups are at an increased risk, these include:
- Illegal Drug Users
- Men who have sex with other men
- Someone who is in ‘close contact’ with a person who has Hepatitis A
People who may come into contact with Hepatitis A through their occupation. This usually includes sewage workers, people working with animals such as monkeys, apes and gorillas. Staff and workers who may come into contact with people who have poor personal hygiene.
If any of these apply to you, speak to your local GP to find out if the Hepatitis A vaccine could be applicable for your requirements.
Countries with a ‘Risk’ of Hepatitis A
Although Hepatitis A is low risk in Britain, it can be found all across the world. If you’re going on holiday then it can be a good idea to check with the UK foreign office, your travel agent of the countries embassy to ask about the risk of hepatitis A in the destination you’re visiting.
Typically ‘at-risk’ destinations include the Middle East, Far East (usually excluding Japan), Africa, Indian Subcontinent, South and Central America.
Types of Hepatitis A Vaccine
Typically in Britain there’s three different types of hepatitis A vaccinations available, these are:
- A vaccination for Hepatitis A only
- A combination of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
- A combination of Hepatitis A and Typhoid Fever
It’s always recommended to speak to your Doctor before having any vaccine. They can give you advice on which type is best suited for your requirements.
Generally all three types of vaccines are available for free on the NHS. You should have the vaccination at your local health centre, doctor’s surgery or local hospital.
If you’re travelling outside of the UK and require the Hepatitis A vaccine before you travel, it’s recommended to complete the process around a two to three weeks before you travel.
Side Effects of the Hepatitis A Vaccination
Just like most vaccines, there can be some side effects of having the hepatitis A vaccination, these typically include temporary redness, soreness and hardening around and near to the site of the injection.
In some cases a small lump may also form, this tends to be painless and typically disappears quickly. Other side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine can include:
- Raised Temperature
- Loss of Appetite
If you have a ‘severe’ side effect or your health is getting worse after having the vaccine, please contact your local GP practice, NHS 111 or 999 in an emergency.
How to Prevent Hepatitis A
If you’re ill and suspect you may have the Hepatitis A infection, you should call your local doctor’s surgery or NHS 111. Depending on how infectious you are, leaving your home might not be a good idea, as this can infect others.
Generally you should:
- Avoid preparing food for others
- Wash your hands with clean water and soap
- Stay off work and school
- Clean the toilet, this includes the handles and taps
- Avoid sharing towel
- Wash your clothes separately from others
Remember that Hepatitis A tends to be ‘most infectious’ for around two weeks BEFORE the symptoms start. Please remember this page is a “general guide only”, it’s not official medical advice. It’s always recommended to get professional guidance and diagnosis from your GP.
For more information on Hepatitis A and the Hepatitis A Vaccine please call your Doctor’s practice for advice.