Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It may be acquired in the UK although a large proportion of people who become infected contract the virus when abroad.
Hepatitis A infection does occur in the UK but it is more common in countries where sanitation and sewage disposal can be poor (particularly Africa, northern and southern Asia, Central America and southern and eastern Europe). Countries with economies in transition and some regions of industrialized countries where sanitary conditions are sub-standard are also highly affected, e.g. in eastern Europe and some parts of the Middle East
The hepatitis A virus is excreted in the faeces of infected people and can be passed on to other people when food is contaminated with infected faeces or a contaminated object is put in the mouth (faecal-oral transmission).
Hepatitis A is an acute (short term) infection rather than chronic (long term) and most patients recover completely with no lasting effects. Symptoms are generally mild in young children, but it can be a serious illness in older adults. Hepatitis A is fatal in about 0.2% of cases although this rate rises to about 1.8% in individuals over 50 years of age.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A infection acquired in the UK may either present as sporadic cases, as community-wide outbreaks resulting from person-to-person transmission or, uncommonly, as point source outbreaks related to contaminated food.
In recent decades in the UK, there has been a number of outbreaks of hepatitis A in a number of European countries, also among men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users, and homeless people in several countries including the UK.
Hepatitis A infection can be prevented by vaccination, which is recommended for those at increased risk.
More information about hepatitis A, including information on hepatitis A vaccines and who they are recommended for is available from NHS Direct Wales On-line
For data and reports on hepatitis A in Wales see the Public health wales hepatitis A dashboard here.
More information about the composition of vaccines including the hepatitis A vaccine and immunoglobulin is included in the Public Health England 'Immunisation Against Infectious Diseases' policy and guidance handbook (The 'Green Book') which is available from the gov.uk website here.