What is it?
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver.
How do you get it?
Hepatitis A is passed on when small particles of faeces enter a person’s mouth through activities like rectal play and rimming, or by not washing your hands after sex with an infected person. This is called oral-faecal transmission. It is also passed on through using eating and drinking utensils previously handled by an infected person, eating infected shellfish or by sharing a joint or bong.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Symptoms of hepatitis A infection may include mild flu-like symptoms, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, joint and muscle pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes or urine). Symptoms can take 2 – 7 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. Two doses of the vaccine are required; the second dose is given 6 to 12 months after the initial vaccination. There is also a hepatitis A and B combination vaccination available. Three doses of the vaccine are required; the second dose after 1 month and the third 6 months after the initial vaccination.
To prevent passing on hepatitis A wash your hands after using the toilet and before and after sex (especially arse play), and use dams for rimming.
Hepatitis A & HIV
If you are HIV-positive one of the consequences of also having hep A infection is often having to go off anti-HIV medication, and sometimes drugs for opportunistic infections as well. Many HIV drugs pass through the liver and so cannot be tolerated during acute hepatitis infection. Getting immunised is a sensible move (the vaccination is not a live one).