Hepatitis A

What Is It?

Hepatitis A is an infectious illness that may be food or water borne. Epidemics of this disease occur particularly in developing countries. It is recognised initially by the symptoms. These can include fever, headache and nausea, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and jaundice. These symptoms can last for 3 weeks.

How Is It Caused?

It is caused by the Hepatitis A virus entering the body either through the mouth, usually from unwashed hands and infected food and drink or through cuts and broken skin.

Possible routes of the infection are:-

  • Eating fruit and vegetables contaminated with soil
  • Using contaminated needles to inject drugs
  • Contact with streams, ponds and similar watercourses
  • Drinking water contaminated with sewage
  • Eating shellfish taken from contaminated waters

How Is It Spread?

It can be spread from person to person.

If an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the toilet their hands may be contaminated with the virus. They can then pass the infection on, either by direct contact with other people, or, indirectly, by preparing food that someone else then eats.

What Precautionary Measures Can I Take?

Thorough hand washing is vital:-

  • After going to the toilet
  • Before preparing or serving food or drink
  • After handling raw meat and vegetables
  • Avoid swallowing water when participating in water sports


People in close contact with someone suffering from Hepatitis A should seek medical advice as vaccination may be appropriate.

Only drink mains or treated water and make sure that the water tank in your loft is covered to stop birds getting in.

When on holiday abroad it may well be safer to use bottled water.

Always wash fruit and vegetables. When on holiday abroad it may be safer to use bottled water to do this.

Take care when changing the nappies of infected babies.

People suffering from Hepatitis A should be given their own towel and flannel to use.

Intravenous drug users should always use sterile needles.

Hepatitis A can be contracted abroad, especially in areas where there is poor sanitation and hygiene.  If you intend travelling to a country where Hepatitis A is common, talk to your doctor about having an injection before you go. Such injections can help to protect you for up to 12 months.

Will I Need Treatment?

You should seek medical advice from your doctor about treatment.

Do I Need To Submit Samples?

In some cases, it may be necessary to collect specimens of faeces for analysis to confirm the presence of a pathogenic organism.  The results can help in determining the possible source of an infection.

Where it is felt necessary to submit a faecal sample an Environmental Health Officer will contact you.  You will be given a special container and full instructions on collecting a sample.  The sample  will be sent to the laboratory for analysis and you will be advised of the outcome.