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Hepatitis A virus in food

What is it?

  • Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is a virus that can be found in the gut of people and some animals
  • HAV can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) or blood of an infected person or animal, for example through poor hand washing or contact with sewerage

What's the risk?

  • HAV can cause an infection of the gut and liver called hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis A infections are contagious.
  • Anyone who has not been vaccinated or has not had the virus before can get hepatitis A
  • The elderly and those with a weakened immune system are more likely to have severe symptoms
  • People traveling to countries where sanitation is poor can be at increased risk of picking up HAV
  • Foods with higher risk of contamination include shellfish (e.g. oysters) and fresh produce such as salads, fruit and vegetables

Symptoms of hepatitis A

  • Symptoms usually start 2-4 weeks after eating contaminated food
  • Common symptoms range from fever, loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhoea, to abdominal pain, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Children under 6 years usually don't have noticeable symptoms
  • Generally symptoms last for 1-2 weeks but can continue for several months

Reduce your risk

  • There is a vaccine for HAV
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet and changing nappies
  • Avoid sharing food, cutlery and drinks with other people
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish
  • When traveling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared using contaminated water
Page last updated 18 March 2024