Hepatitis A (HAV)
What is it?
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation (swelling) of the liver. There may be no symptoms, but usually symptoms last one to two weeks but can last longer.
How do you get it?
Hepatitis A is most often passed on when playing with an HAV infected person’s anus (bum) during sex.
Hepatitis A is also frequently passed on through every day activities, mostly by using eating and drinking utensils previously handled by an infected person, eating infected shellfish or by sharing a cigarette, joint or bong.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Symptoms of hepatitis A infection may include:
- mild flu-like symptoms
- nausea and sometimes vomiting
- abdominal pain
- joint and muscle pain
- yellowing of the skin, eyes or urine (pee) (jaundice)
- rapid weight loss
- mild headache
- dark urine and pale faeces (poo)
Symptoms can take two to seven weeks to appear but the infection will usually clear within a month. On rare occasions people can be ill for several months.
Hepatitis A is diagnosed with a blood test. Once you have had hepatitis A, antibodies will be detected in your blood. Most people will become immune to hepatitis A once they have had it, meaning that it is unlikely that they will get it again.
Can it be treated?
There is no treatment for hepatitis A. Bed-rest and plenty of fluids are recommended. In severe cases people will need to go to hospital.
How can it be prevented?
There is a vaccination course available for hepatitis A. It is free to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in some states and territories. Two doses of the vaccine are required. The second dose is given six to 12 months after the first vaccination. (There is also a hepatitis A and B combination vaccination available. Three doses of the vaccine are required; the second dose after one month and the third dose six months after the initial vaccination.)
The most effective way to prevent hepatitis A infection is good hygienic practice like washing your hands after using the toilet and before and after sex.
Hepatitis A & HIV
If you are HIV positive, one of the consequences of also having a hepatitis A infection, is having to go off anti-HIV medication (treatment). Many HIV drugs pass through the liver and so cannot be tolerated during acute hepatitis infection. Getting immunised is a sensible move if you have HIV because the vaccination is not a 'live' vaccine.