About hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus. If you get infected with this virus, it causes inflammation of the liver.
The hepatitis A virus lives in poo. It spreads when children or adults come into contact with objects, food or water that have been contaminated by an infected person’s poo.
Hepatitis A isn’t common in Australia. It’s very common in poorer countries, especially in areas without good sewerage systems. This means it’s a particular risk if you’re travelling to those areas.
Hepatitis A symptoms
Symptoms appear 1-2 months after infection with the virus. This long incubation period can make it hard to know exactly when or where the infection happened.
Children with hepatitis A usually have milder symptoms than adults. In fact, most children with hepatitis A, especially very young children, don’t have many symptoms. It’s possible for them to have hepatitis A without you realising. Other children with hepatitis A can be very sick and will need to go to hospital, but this isn’t common.
Later, the child’s skin might feel very itchy, and their tummy might be a little swollen and sore, especially over the upper right side where the liver is. Also, your child’s urine might turn dark yellow or brown, and their skin and eyes might go a yellowish colour. This is called jaundice.
Children with hepatitis A usually get completely better after 1-2 weeks, but occasionally it can take longer than this. Hepatitis A infection usually doesn’t last very long, unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections.
Medical help: when to get it for children with hepatitis A
You should take your child to the GP if your child:
- might have come into contact with the hepatitis A virus
- develops yellow skin or eyes
- has very dark brown wee
- has stomach pain that continues longer than a few days
- has an unexplained rash.
Tests for hepatitis A
If your GP thinks that your child might have a hepatitis A infection, the GP will ask for blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Hepatitis A treatment
There’s no cure for hepatitis A, so treatment aims to ease symptoms.
If your child has diarrhoea or has been vomiting, it’s important to make sure they drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration.
If your child’s symptoms are severe, they might need to go to hospital. But it’s quite unusual for children to need to go to hospital for hepatitis A.
Don’t give your child paracetamol without first checking with your doctor. If your child’s liver isn’t working properly because of a hepatitis A infection, it might be damaged by normal doses of paracetamol.
Prevention of hepatitis A
In any part of the world, but especially in places without good sewerage systems, the key to preventing hepatitis A is good hygiene. This includes washing your hands after going to the toilet and before eating.
Immunisation against hepatitis A is recommended for children over the age of 12 months if you’re travelling to places where there might be a high risk of coming into contact with hepatitis A. These places might include developing countries and also isolated communities in tropical Australia.
It’s a good idea to discuss travel immunisation for hepatitis A with your GP at least 7-8 months before you travel. Your child should get 2 doses of vaccine, 6 months apart. If you’re travelling in less than 6 months, it’s recommended that you still see your GP so your child can get the first dose before you travel. You usually need to pay for a hepatitis A travel immunisation.
Your GP can also give you advice about food and water safety while you’re travelling.
Immunisation program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
Hepatitis A immunisation is recommended and funded as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12-24 months living in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. This is because these children have a higher risk of catching hepatitis A.
If your child is in this group, talk to your local Aboriginal health clinic, doctor or other immunisation provider.