Hepatitis A Virus

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Hepatitis A Virus is preventable by vaccination.

Hepatitis A Virus

Hepatitis A is a disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. People acquire the illness when consuming contaminated food and water. Most products linked to outbreaks are shellfish and contaminated water. 

Contaminated water, shellfish, and salads are the foods most often linked to outbreaks, although other foods also have been involved in outbreaks. The illness usually is mild, starts about 2 to 4 weeks after the contaminated food or water is eaten or drunk, and goes away by itself in a week or two, although it can last up to 6 months in some people. It causes inflammation of the liver, and symptoms may include fever, low appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and yellowing in the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice). In rare cases, the illness can quickly cause severe liver damage, leading to death. The virus spreads from the feces (bowel movements) of infected people. For example, when infected people have a bowel movement and don’t wash their hands well afterwards, or when people clean an infected person who has had a bowel movement and don’t wash their hands well, they can spread the virus to anything they touch, and other people can pick it up when they touch that same surface later. Day‐care centers are among the places where this can easily happen.

Reservoirs & Transmission

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When the virus gets on the hands of people who prepare food, they can contaminate the food and spread the virus to people who eat the food. Countries with poor sanitation also are high‐risk places, and travelers should be aware that some water in those countries may be contaminated.

Symptoms & complications

Infections with Hepatitis A Virus are not associated with chronic infections. However, if the illness relapses or prolongs, it could last for 6 months duration. Patients during this time feel chronically tired and unable to work.

Susceptible Populations

All people are susceptible to Hepatitis A Virus infection. Immunity can be developed by exposure to the pathogen or immunization. 

Prevention/ Food Handling/ Hand Washing

Separate Raw and Cooked: Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw (uncooked) produce and raw (uncooked) meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods while shopping, and in the refrigerator.

Cook Thoroughly and Keep Food at Safe Temperature: Only a food thermometer can make sure meat, poultry, fish, and casseroles are cooked to a safe internal temperature. For example, internal temperatures should be 145°F or 63°C for whole meats (allow the meat to rest after cooking for 3 minutes at least) and fish, 160°F or 71°C for ground meats, and 165°F or 74°C for all poultry. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.

Chill: Use appliance thermometers to be sure your refrigerator is at or below 40ºF or  4°C and your freezer is 0ºF (-17.78°C) or below. Between 40ºF or 4°C and 140ºF or 60°, C is the Danger Zone, when bacteria can multiply rapidly. Generally, the more bacteria, the more likely someone will get sick. Most refrigerators have just a colder/ warmer adjustment, so the only way to know is to put a thermometer inside.

Hand Washing

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
  • Use Hand Sanitizer When You Can’t Use Soap and Water. Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. Keep in mind, that sanitizers do not kill all types of germs. If your hands are visibly dirty, soap them and then use a sanitizer. They also might not remove chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals from your hands.

Important Tips

Cooking food until it’s at a temperature of 190˚F in the middle for at least 1½ minutes or boiling food in water for at least 3 minutes inactivates the virus. Common cleaners aren’t usually sold in the strengths needed to destroy this virus, and it can withstand more heat than many bacteria can. It can also withstand freezing.

The following information is an extract from the World Health Organization (2008). Foodborne Disease Outbreaks: Guidelines for Investigation and Control. Geneva, Switzerland, 2008