The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is investigating cases of hepatitis A infection in adults on Oahu. DOH staff are conducting interviews with the newly identified cases in an effort to identify the cause of infection. The public is encouraged to review their immunization record and talk to their healthcare provider about vaccination.
While vaccination provides the best protection, frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Appropriately cooking and preparing foods can also help prevent infection.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The disease can range from a mild illness lasting 1 or 2 weeks to a severe illness lasting for several months. HAV is found in the stool of people with hepatitis A infection and is usually spread by eating contaminated food or drinking water and can be spread through close personal/sexual contact. A person who has hepatitis A can easily pass the disease to others within the same household.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A infection?
Not everyone has symptoms. If symptoms develop, they can include:
- Light colored stools
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellow skin and eyes (Jaundice—may develop several days to a week after other symptoms begin)
Infants and young children with hepatitis A infection tend to have milder or no symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults.
Illness usually occurs from two weeks to as long as 50 days after exposure to the hepatitis A virus (i.e., consuming the contaminated product).
Persons should seek medical attention immediately should they develop symptoms.
Who should be tested for hepatitis A infection?
Testing when you have no symptoms is not recommended: your test result may be negative because it is too early (given the long incubation period of hepatitis A disease)—that is, you may have a false negative result.
Only patients who have symptoms of hepatitis A infection should be tested.
How long is a person with hepatitis A contagious?
Patients with hepatitis A are most contagious during the 1 to 2 weeks before the symptoms start until at least 1 week after the start of first symptoms.
What is the treatment for hepatitis A infection?
There is no special treatment for persons with hepatitis A infection. Most persons with hepatitis A infection will recover without complications but may require supportive therapy (e.g. fluids orally or, in some cases, given through the vein, medicines to control fever) and close monitoring by their physician. Persons should seek medical attention if they develop symptoms of hepatitis A infection.
How can I prevent hepatitis A infection?
Hepatitis A infection is a vaccine preventable disease. Fortunately, most children and some adolescents have been vaccinated as part of routine and catch-up childhood vaccination recommendations. However, many adolescents and adults have not been vaccinated and will be susceptible.
Two doses of hepatitis A vaccine are needed for lasting protection. These doses should be given at least 6 months apart. For more information about the hepatitis A vaccine, go to http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hep-a.pdf.
For a list of pharmacies that provide hepatitis A vaccine, go to http://health.hawaii.gov/docd/files/2013/07/IMM_Adult_Resource_List.pdf.
If you have already been vaccinated against hepatitis A or have had hepatitis A disease in the past, you should be protected and do not require a booster for protection.
Does hepatitis B vaccine provide any protection against hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for hepatitis C. Vaccination with hepatitis B vaccine does not provide protection against hepatitis A disease.
What if I don’t have health insurance or a healthcare provider?
For assistance, call Aloha United Way 2-1-1.
Does the Department of Health conduct food safety inspections at restaurants and other food service organizations?
Yes. Food safety inspection reports are available at the DOH Restaurant Inspection website http://hi.healthinspections.us/hawaii/.
Healthcare providers with questions regarding recommendations for hepatitis A prophylaxis and testing should call the Hawaii Department of Health Immunization Branch at 586-8300 (Oahu), 1-800-933-4832 (Neighbor islands).