Hepatitis A Vaccination

Learn more about Hepatitis A and how you can protect yourself and others when you travel. We explain how you get the disease, the symptoms and how you can prevent the disease.

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that is not usually acquired in the UK. The virus attacks the liver causing abdominal discomfort, jaundice, dark-coloured urine, fever, diarrhoea and nausea.

Symptoms usually appear 2-4 weeks after ingestion of the virus and the condition usually resolves on its own over a period of weeks to months. Unlike Hepatitis B and other Hepatitis viruses, Hepatitis A does not cause long-lasting damage to the liver (Liver Cirrhosis) but on occasion, Hepatitis A can cause liver failure which frequently leads to death. Older people are at increased risk of complications and younger patients can sometimes contract the disease and not suffer any symptoms.

According to figures from the World Health Organisation over 7000 people died from Hepatitis A in 2016, but this figure pales in comparison to the burden other Hepatitis infections cause with Hepatitis A mortality accounting for just 0.5% of the world’s Hepatitis mortality.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that is not usually acquired in the UK. The virus attacks the liver causing abdominal discomfort, jaundice, dark-coloured urine, fever, diarrhoea and nausea.

Symptoms usually appear 2-4 weeks after ingestion of the virus and the condition usually resolves on its own over a period of weeks to months. Unlike Hepatitis B and other Hepatitis viruses, Hepatitis A does not cause long-lasting damage to the liver (Liver Cirrhosis) but on occasion, Hepatitis A can cause liver failure which frequently leads to death. Older people are at increased risk of complications and younger patients can sometimes contract the disease and not suffer any symptoms.

According to figures from the World Health Organisation over 7000 people died from Hepatitis A in 2016, but this figure pales in comparison to the burden other Hepatitis infections cause with Hepatitis A mortality accounting for just 0.5% of the world’s Hepatitis mortality.

How do you get Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is usually acquired through contaminated food and water, typically through what is known as the faecal-oral route. This is where individuals who carry the virus in their faeces contaminate the food they are preparing for others due to poor personal hygiene. Hepatitis A can also be acquired through close intimate contact with others but is not spread through casual contact, and can even be acquired by consuming filter-feeding Shellfish like Mussels that have been exposed to untreated sewerage.

Why am I at risk of getting Hepatitis A?

You’re probably reading this page because you are looking for Travel Vaccines at Peak Pharmacy.

UK citizens are very rarely exposed to Hepatitis A when in the UK, but the disease is endemic in many parts of the world, particularly in developing nations. Areas of the world where you can find Hepatitis A include Asia, Africa, Middle East and South America, and long term travel to these areas will increase your risk further.

Anyone who has not been vaccinated against hepatitis A (or recovered from a confirmed hepatitis A infection) is at risk of infection.

How can I prevent a Hepatitis A infection?

Hepatitis A infections are best prevented through vaccination prior to potential exposure, but some other tips that can help prevent infection by viruses and bacteria spread through the faecal-oral route include:

  • Safe drinking water (even for brushing your teeth). Trusted sources of bottled water, Boiled and cooled water, Chlorine treated water or filtered and treated water through products like SafeHydrate from Pyramid Travel.
  • Hygiene. Ensure you wash your hands regularly, especially before you eat food and definitely after every trip to the bathroom.
  • Beware about the food and drink you consume. Make sure your food is piping hot before eating it, avoid ice in your drinks, avoid salads and only eat fruit that needs to be peeled. Some food like shellfish can be particularly high risk.

For more information Travel health pro have some great fact sheets on food and water safety whilst travelling abroad.

Hepatitis A Vaccine

As mentioned earlier vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended as one of the best methods of preventing infection. Hepatitis A vaccines are safe, and effective and provide long-lasting protection against this viral illness.

Suitable for adults and children from 1-year-old the vaccine is administered as a course of 2 doses separated by a minimum of 6 months. Once a course is complete you will get at least 25 years of protection against hepatitis A infection when travelling to countries where the disease is common.

Typically this vaccine will confer a good level of immunity with significant antibody levels appearing 2- 4 weeks after administration of the first dose. The second dose administered at 6 months will reinforce this immunity to provide long-lasting protection.

What side effects could I expect from a Hepatitis A vaccine?

As mentioned earlier Hepatitis A vaccines are safe and effective; adverse events are infrequent. All licenced vaccines in the UK which include Havrix Mono Dose, Vaqta, and Avaxim are inactivated vaccines. This means they cannot cause the disease that we are attempting to protect you against. In this respect, they are just like the flu vaccine which should also be considered a travel vaccine depending on the season you are travelling. Typical adverse events are usually limited to:

  • Injection site reactions like a sore arm or redness swelling or tenderness at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever (greater than 37.5C)
  • Fatigue and Tiredness

These symptoms will usually resolve within a few days and require only paracetamol or a cold compress (if swelling at the injection site) to manage them.

Can I get a Hepatitis A vaccine free from my doctor?

Yes …… usually. Hepatitis A vaccines are offered for free on the NHS. It is provided for free as you could become a public health risk to a largely unvaccinated UK population should you bring this lovely illness back off your holiday.

Unfortunately, only your GP surgery can provide the vaccine free of charge, not all surgeries provide travel services and you often need to give your surgery 8 weeks’ notice to get an appointment.

Our teams will always tell you what vaccines you can get free of charge on the NHS, but for your information, these are Typhoid, Tetanus / Diphtheria / Polio, Hepatitis A and Cholera