Hepatitis A, also known as “infectious jaundice”, is an infection of the liver. The virus is mainly found in (sub) tropical countries, especially in areas which have poor hygiene standards.
The risk of contracting hepatitis A is greatest in (sub) tropical areas. The disease is also seen in Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt. The risk of infection is present in all places where there are poor standards of hygiene and sanitation.
The most noticeable symptoms are depression, fever, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, pain in the upper abdomen, diarrhoea, dark urine and pale stools. The skin and the whites of the eyes become yellowish, hence the name ‘jaundice’ from Old French word “jaunice” - “yellowness”. Adults who contract hepatitis A are on average ill for a period of four to six weeks but a quarter of patients are unable to work for more than six months. The disease is generally much milder in small children, many of whom will have no symptoms at all.
Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water. Initially, the virus is found in the faeces. It is transferred by hands, objects, food and water which have been contaminated by (infected) faeces. Poor hygiene increases the risk of infection. Sewer pipes that discharge waste in areas where people swim are a direct threat to both humans and to shellfish, since these shellfish feed on organic residues. Humans can catch hepatitis A if they eat contaminated seafood. Raw vegetables, fruit and salads can also be a source of infection if they have been washed in contaminated water.
Hepatitis A can be prevented by proper vaccination, good general hygiene and the avoidance of risky behaviour.