British Columbia

Hepatitis A: how it spreads and symptoms to watch for

While there is no treatment for hepatitis A, getting a vaccine and basic hand washing can help prevent the spread of the viral liver infection.

Hand washing is important protection against hepatitis A, say health officials

Vaccination against hepatitis A can help even after someone has been exposed, as long as it's within 14 days, say health officials. (Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press)

While there is no treatment for hepatitis A, getting a vaccine and basic hand washing can help prevent the spread of the viral liver infection.

Hepatitis A is a virus that spreads through contact with the vomit or feces of an infected person, often through contaminated food or drink or close contact with someone who's sick.

Hepatitis A is more common in regions with poor sanitation and a lack of safe food and water, according to the Government of Canada's travel safety website.

"It is one of the most common vaccine-preventable illnesses in travellers," states the site.

Outbreaks also happen in Canada. Public alerts have been issued after hepatitis A exposure at a supermarket, restaurant, and elementary school, for example.

Symptoms of hepatitis A

Symptoms can take between 15 and 50 days to develop after someone is infected with hepatitis A. They include:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain on the right side of the rib cage

There is no treatment for hepatitis A, and most people recover from the illness without lasting side effects. Children tend to have more mild illness than adults.

However, recovery may take weeks or months, and a quarter of the adult cases require hospitalization, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Preventing disease

Washing your hands with soap and warm water before eating or preparing food and after using the washroom is an important way to stop the spread of hepatitis A, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

If someone is exposed to an infected person, health officials recommend getting a dose of the vaccine within 14 days, which can help prevent the disease. 

In B.C., hepatitis A vaccine is also provided free to others at a high risk of infection, such as prison inmates, injection drug users, and liver transplant patients, according to Immunize B.C.

The vaccine is not given to all B.C. children as part of routine immunizations, but is offered to aboriginal children.

Travellers to countries where hepatitis A is a concern may want to be vaccinated six weeks before travel, according to the Canadian government's travel recommendations.

With files from Lisa Johnson


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