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Hepatitis A virus in food

 

What is Hepatitis A virus?

Hepatitis A virus (or HAV) is a virus that can be found in the gut of people and other primates. There are many different hepatitis viruses but only the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E viruses cause foodborne illness.

What illness does it cause?

Hepatitis A (an infection of the gut and liver). This illness is a nationally notifiable disease and must be reported to health authorities.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Hepatitis A range from mild to severe and include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Symptoms usually start 28–30 days from exposure to the virus, but the timing can range from 15–50 days and usually last for 1-2 weeks but can last for several months. Children under 6 years old do not usually have noticeable symptoms.

Sometimes infected people have no symptoms.

Unlike some other types of hepatitis, Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver disease.

Who can get sick?

People who have not had Hepatitis A virus before and people who have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis A.

Older people (not previously infected or vaccinated) could be more likely to have severe symptoms and die.

Where does it come from?

The virus can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) or blood of an infected person, for example through poor hand washing or contact with sewerage. The virus can stay infectious in the environment for a long time and might not be destroyed by processes usually used to control bacteria in food production.

Common foods that can be contaminated with Hepatitis A virus include bivalve molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters), fresh produce such as salads and fruits, and raw or only lightly processed vegetables/fruit.

People who travel to developing countries where sanitation is poor may pick up Hepatitis A virus.

How can people get sick?

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • From infected people transferring the virus to food, cutlery and other things they touch
  • Through close contact with an infectious person or their personal items (towels, drinkware, nappies, etc.)

How can illness be prevented?

  • There is a vaccine for Hepatitis A
  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet and changing nappies
  • Avoid sharing food, cutlery and drinks with other people
  • When travelling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared using contaminated water
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