There’s been a recent rise in cases of Hepatitis A in England - the majority of these have been diagnosed in London and two-thirds of the infections are in gay men. There are also Hepatitis A outbreaks in other European countries, so as summer gets into full swing we thought we’d put together some information and advice on how to stay safe, whether you stay in the UK or you’re off on travels.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. Symptoms usually develop about 4 weeks after infection and can include feeling tired and generally unwell, joint and muscle pain, fever, feeling and being sick, tummy pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and itchy skin. Hepatitis A It can be unpleasant, but it's not usually serious and most people make a full recovery within a couple of months. However, It can occasionally cause liver failure.
It's uncommon in the UK, but certain groups are at increased risk. This includes travellers to parts of the world with poor levels of sanitation, men who have sex with men.
How do people catch Hepatitis A?
The virus lives in your poo so Hepatitis A is most commonly caught by:
- Eating food prepared by someone with the infection who hasn’t washed their hands properly or washed them in contaminated water
- Drinking contaminated water
- Close contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Having sex with someone who has hepatitis A, especially if the virus gets into the mouth. This can happen during sex when tiny amounts of faeces get on fingers and into mouths through rimming, fingering, anal sex without condoms, handling used condoms and sex toys that have been in someone else’s anus.
Can it be prevented?
If you are considered at high risk of infection, you can protect yourself by getting vaccinated. NHS Choices provide guidance on who is at high risk of infection http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis-A/Pages/Vaccination.aspx
When you travel to parts of the world where standards of sanitation and food hygiene are poor, make sure you drink bottled water and all food is cooked thoroughly.
Make sure you wash your hands after sex (ideally buttocks, groin and penis too) and change condoms between anal and oral sex. Use a latex barrier (eg, a condom cut into a square) for rimming and latex gloves for fingering or fisting. Try to avoid sharing sex toys.
Is there any specific advice for people travelling this summer?
If you’re at risk of contracting Hepatitis A, the advice is to get vaccinated. You should make an appointment with your practice nurse, sexual health clinic or another healthcare provider prior to travelling. If you are not able to access vaccine at GUM or sexual health services you may need to pay for vaccine privately.
For men who have sex with men - if you’re not already vaccinated and need to attend a GUM or HIV clinic for any reason, you will be offered a single dose of Hepatitis A vaccine, if it’s available in that clinic. For more info and advice for men who have sex with men, check out this Hepatitis A information page from Terrence Higgins Trust
What should I do if I think I have Hepatitis A?
If you think you have Hepatitis A, you should see your GP or go to a sexual health clinic. A blood test will confirm whether you have picked up the virus. The usual treatment for hepatitis A is to simply rest.
If you test positive for Hepatitis A and have recently had sex with someone or share your house with others, they should see a doctor straight away about getting vaccinated to stop them getting infected.
Avoid sex and preparing food for others until told you are no longer infectious.
We have lots more information and advice on sexual health and STIs on our website take a look if you're worried or just want to get more informed: https://sh24.org.uk/sexual-health