Hepatitis A

Page last updated: 20 April 2015

Hepatitis A is one of several different hepatitis viruses that can cause infections and damage to the liver. Although hepatitis A is usually the mildest and least serious of the hepatitis viruses, it is highly contagious and can be dangerous for people with pre-existing liver problems.

Globally, the hepatitis A virus is one of the most frequent causes of foodborne infection. The World Health Organization estimates that each year there are about 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A infection worldwide.

Causes

Hepatitis A is spread by contact with infected faeces, and tends to be more common in developing countries with poor hygiene standards. The virus can survive on hands for several hours, and in food kept at room temperature for considerably longer. It can also be spread through contaminated water.

Symptoms

Symptoms can show between 15 and 50 days after infection (30 days on average) and include: fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine and pale faeces, and jaundice (yellow colouring of the eyes and skin). Illness usually lasts between one and three weeks, and is usually followed by complete recovery. Young children who become infected often have no symptoms, but remain infectious to others.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children remain at a considerably higher risk of acquiring Hepatitis A infections and also being hospitalised with the infection, when compared to non-Indigenous children.

Prevention

The hepatitis A vaccine is extremely effective in preventing infection with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, because they have a greater risk of acquiring hepatitis A than other children.

It is listed on the National Immunisation Program Schedule and funded for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12-24 months living in these areas. To receive hepatitis A immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that the vaccine is provided at no cost, although a consultation fee may apply.

Two doses of the vaccine are given six months apart between 12 and 24 months of age. Immunisation against hepatitis A is achieved using a single-disease vaccine.

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