Jan 2009

Hepatitis A (HAV)

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. This can be caused by alcohol and some drugs, but usually it is the result of a viral infection. There are many types of the virus which can cause hepatitis. Each of these viruses acts differently.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is a common infection in many parts of the world. It is possible to become infected through eating or drinking contaminated food or water. The virus is found in faeces (shit). It can be passed on if even a tiny amount of it from a person with HAV comes into contact with another person’s mouth.

This means the virus can also be passed on sexually through practices such as rimming. Personal hygiene, with careful hand washing, can minimise the risk of the virus being passed on.

Signs and symptoms – what to look out for

People may have no symptoms at all, but they can still pass it on to others. Symptoms may include:

  • A short, mild, flu-like illness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice – yellow skin and whites of eyes, darker urine and pale faeces
  • Itchy skin
  • Some people may need to be admitted to hospital.

Where to go for help?

  • Your own GP
  • Your local NHS GUM/Sexual Health Clinic – you will get free confidential advice and treatment here.
  • A hospital A&E Department

The tests for HAV

Your GP or the medical specialist at the GUM/sexual health clinic can diagnose HAV by carrying out blood tests. You will be asked questions to try to discover the source of the infection.

What does a POSITIVE result mean?

  • Past infection: This means that you have been in contact with HAV and your body has cleared it. You now have a natural protection against future infection with HAV
  • Current infection: By the time most people have developed symptoms of HAV they will be less infectious to others, but in the weeks before this there will have been a risk of passing on the infection.

You will be asked questions to find out if others have been at risk of HAV. Those who have been in contact with the virus and have become infected may be given an injection to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Most of the symptoms of HAV settle after a few weeks, although some people can feel tired for a number of months after the infection. There is little likelihood of chronic liver damage and no chronic carrier state.

What does a NEGATIVE result mean?

This result means you may never have been in contact with HAV and have no natural protection from it. If you are thought to be at risk of HAV you may be advised to be immunised.

Diagnosis and treatment

Infection with HAV is usually mild, but occasionally causes severe inflammation of the liver needing hospital admission.

Immunisation

For HAV you are given a single injection which gives you protection for a year. A second booster injection at 6-12 months gives you protection for up to 10 years.

These injections are available from your GP.

You can also get immunised to prevent HAV developing, if you have recently come into contact with it.
Immunisation is also recommended for people whose sexual practices are likely to put them at risk.

Follow-up

If you are infected with HAV you should limit the amount of alcohol you drink. You may also be offered dietary advice. You will be advised about any precautions necessary to ensure that you avoid infecting others with the virus.

What next?

For more information contact us: 01202-257478 or
email: overtherainbow2@dchft.nhs.uk

At Over The Rainbow staff are present Tuesday - Friday, 10am to 5pm , Bournemouth and at other venues throughout the county.

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