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Hepatitis A virus in food

 

Last updated: 22 December 2020

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
  • Foods with higher risk of contamination include shellfish (e.g. oysters) and fresh produce such as salads, fruit and vegetables.

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

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

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
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