Hepatitis A is, together with influenza, the most vaccine preventable disease in travellers to developed countries. It was quite common in Australia prior to world war two, and was often known as infectious jaundice. The disease is caused by a virus and is transmitted through contaminated food or drink. It still occurs in some remote northern Australian communities, and is far more common in the developing world.
The illness develops some weeks after exposure and results in fever, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, low grade fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver failure). It continues for several weeks to months, and is usually self-limiting, eventually resolving. There is no treatment. However, in some individuals with weaker immune systems, it is occasionally fatal. In recent years in developed countries, there have been localised outbreaks traced to certain foods such a berries, or linked to a certain restaurant.
In countries where levels of hygiene are poor, children are exposed early in life and develop lifelong immunity, also known as natural immunity. Illness under the age of five is usually very mild, often no more than a short period of diarrhoea. Unexposed and unvaccinated older children and adults travelling are at a more significant risk of exposure. Older travellers and immigrants from developing countries may have been exposed earlier in life and already have natural immunity. This can be checked with a blood test.
Can I be vaccinated against Hepatitis A
A single dose of Hepatitis A vaccine will provide cover for at least six to twelve months. A further dose will extend this for life. It is one of the best vaccines as it is very reliable and very few side effects are reported. It is also available as a combined vaccine with Hepatitis B vaccine or with Typhoid vaccine.