The virus is usually transmitted through food or water contaminated by human faeces or by direct contact with an infectious person. Hepatitis A is rare in the UK with most cases occurring in travellers who have recently visited countries where the disease is common.
Areas with high levels of infection include low-income countries that may have relatively poor sanitary conditions and hygiene practices. These areas include: the Indian subcontinent, Sub-Saharan and North Africa, parts of the Far East, South and Central America, and the Middle East.
Certain travellers are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis A, including:
Symptoms are often mild or absent in young children, but the disease becomes more serious with advancing age. Recovery can vary from weeks to months. Following hepatitis A illness, immunity is lifelong. Symptoms may include: fever, loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), malaise and nausea.
As the most common mode of infection in travellers is consumption of contaminated food or water. The risk of acquiring hepatitis A can be reduced by ensuring good personal hygiene and following advice on the prevention of food and water-borne diseases.
Several effective inactivated hepatitis A vaccines are available for travellers intending to visit areas where hepatitis A is common. Some of these vaccines are combined with either hepatitis B or typhoid.