What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infectious inflammation of the liver that is triggered by the hepatitis A virus.
How is hepatitis A transmitted?
Hepatitis A is transmitted orally through contact with faecal matter. Transmission can occur through contaminated water and food or articles of daily use due to insufficient hygiene. It can also occur in the context of close personal contact, e.g. in a common household or a day nursery, as well as during sex involving the anus. Men who have sex with men are most affected here. Transmission through blood is extremely rare.
What are its symptoms and its consequences?
Hepatitis A is an acute disease that causes fever, discomfort, jaundice (yellowing of the white of the eye and the skin), loss of appetite and nausea. The incubation period, i.e. the time between infection and onset of the illness, is between 15 and 50 days and, in most cases, between 25 and 30 days.
Only 30% of infected children under six years of age show any symptoms. Symptoms do appear in most infected older children and adults, and in 70% of cases they include jaundice. The illness usually lasts several weeks (up to six months), and in most cases there is a spontaneous recovery.
The infection never becomes chronic and leaves those affected with a lifelong immunity.
In very rare instances, patients with pre-existing liver disease can suffer a critical loss of liver function.
How is hepatitis A tested for?
A hepatitis A infection is usually diagnosed with a blood test.
How can the infection be prevented?
There is a vaccine against hepatitis A. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommends vaccination for all who have an increased risk of infection, specifically travellers to high-risk regions (regions with medium to high prevalence of hepatitis A in the population) and men who have sex with men. For questions regarding the risks, consult your doctor. The hepatitis A vaccination is covered by compulsory health insurance for people with increased risk of hepatitis A, with the exception of travellers, who have to cover it themselves.
In addition to vaccination, the most important means of avoiding transmission of hepatitis A includes observation of the basic rules of hygiene, such as hand washing after using the lavatory, before preparing food and before eating.
How is hepatitis A treated?
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Only general symptoms such as vomiting and flu-like symptoms can be treated. Those affected need bed rest.
Should sexual partners get treatment as well?
It is important to inform sexual partners about a hepatitis A infection. Vaccination within seven days of contact with the virus can prevent the disease or lessen its symptoms.
In case of an infection, www.lovelife.ch provides tips on how to inform your partner.