Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a contagious disease spread by infected faeces. Without the right hepatitis A treatment, the disease can cause long-term damage and liver failure. However, most people do not experience serious hepatitis A symptoms and make a full recovery. Hepatitis A prevention includes a vaccine that can protect you against the disease.

Risk areas
Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East (excluding Japan), the Middle East, South and Central America
Cases a year
1.4 million
Mortality rate
2% for sufferers aged 50+
People at highest risk
Gay men, drug users, people who visit or stay with the local population

01. Types of hepatitis

Hepatitis involves damage to the liver, and is usually either the result of an infection or caused by drinking too much alcohol.

There are several different types of hepatitis, named from A to E. Hepatitis transmission is mostly through contact with infected faeces or blood.

Some types of the disease pass without any serious problems, while other types of hepatitis can cause chronic illness.

02. Transmission of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A transmission occurs through the faeces of an infected person.

If someone infected by hepatitis A goes to the toilet and does not properly wash their hands, they can pass on the infection when touching other things or people.

This is why good personal hygiene is so important when travelling in areas where there is a higher risk of hepatitis A transmission.

Other hepatitis A causes include eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated, using infected needles to inject non-prescription drugs, or having sex with someone who has the virus.

As many people do not have hepatitis A symptoms, or know they are infected, it is important to check if you need to get vaccinated.

03. Risk areas

Hepatitis A is rare in the UK, but it is still common in parts of the world that have limited access to clean water and inadequate toilet facilities.

Travellers are most at risk of hepatitis A transmission when visiting:

  • Sub-Saharan and northern Africa

  • the Indian subcontinent

  • the Far East (excluding Japan)

  • the Middle East

  • South America

  • Central America

Remember, outbreaks can occur anywhere in the world if someone infected with hepatitis A travels to a different country and infects others. This means that the hepatitis A risk changes.

Check if the country you are travelling to has a risk of hepatitis A through the search bar below.

04. Symptoms of hepatitis A

The symptoms of hepatitis A develop around four weeks after becoming infected. This is known as the hepatitis A incubation period.

Not everyone with the infection will experience hepatitis A symptoms, particularly young children, so it is important to see a doctor if you think you could have been infected with the virus.

Initial hepatitis A symptoms can include:

  • feeling tired and generally unwell

  • joint and muscle pain

  • a mild fever

  • appetite loss

  • feeling or being sick

  • pain in the upper-right section of the stomach  

  • headache

  • sore throat and cough

  • constipation or diarrhoea

  • a raised and itchy rash

These hepatitis A symptoms usually last from a few days up to a couple of weeks. After the initial hepatitis A symptoms, more serious symptoms may develop if you do not see a doctor for hepatitis A treatment.

Later hepatitis A symptoms can include:

  • yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice

  • swollen and tender upper-right section of the stomach

  • dark urine

  • pale faeces

  • itchy skin

Hepatitis A is not usually a serious illness, but in rare cases it can cause the liver to stop working properly.

With the right hepatitis A treatment, most people make a full recovery within a couple of months. However, hepatitis A symptoms can come and go for up to six months.

05. Treatment of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is not usually a serious disease and is treatable, however there is no specific and guaranteed cure. It is still possible to die from hepatitis A if serious complications occur, such as liver failure.

Hepatitis A will normally pass on its own. You can usually look after yourself at home until you recover.

Hepatitis A treatment can include:

  • rest

  • taking painkillers for aches and pains

  • keeping cool and wearing loose clothing to reduce itching

  • taking antihistamine to minimise itching

  • eating smaller meals to help reduce nausea and vomiting 

  • taking anti sickness medicine if vomiting continues

  • avoiding alcohol to protect your liver

  • staying off work or school until directed by your doctor

06. Prevention of hepatitis A

There are many things you can do to decrease your risk of hepatitis A transmission, including getting vaccinated.

If you need to get the vaccine for hepatitis A, you can book a vaccination appointment online today.

If you are unsure if the hepatitis A vaccine is right for you, book a free telephone consultation and speak to one of our prescribing nurses, who can give you a personal recommendation based on your health and travel plans.

To prevent hepatitis A transmission effectively while travelling in risk areas, it is recommended that you:

  • check if you need the vaccine

  • learn about hepatitis A symptoms so you can spot signs

  • avoid contact with anyone infected with hepatitis A

  • avoid sexual contact with infected people

  • do not inject non-prescription drugs

  • ensure good personal hygiene

  • wash hands well with soap and water

  • are vigilant when choosing food and drink

  • avoid ice cubes and choose bottled or boiled water

  • do not eat raw or undercooked shellfish 

  • take extra care if you are in contact with babies  

  • dispose nappies and wipes carefully

Content reviewed by

Anne Marie Major, Independent Nurse Prescriber
24 June 2019