Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a highly contagious virus. It is passed on during sex, but also through poor hygiene. Having two vaccinations is an easy way to prevent infection. There are no drugs to treat hepatitis A. The infection simply has to run its course.
Outbreak in the Netherlands and Europe
Hepatitis A is currently very common among men who have sex with men. More than 1,000 cases have already been diagnosed in Europe, and the virus is now found more often among men in the Netherlands. The RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and Man tot Man (but also the Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK) are warning that hepatitis A will probably spread even further during global events such as the World Pride in Madrid, as some of the many men there may be carriers of the hepatitis A virus.
Symptoms of hepatitis A
Symptoms normally appear two to six weeks after infection. One or more of the following symptoms could point to an infection with the hepatitis A virus:
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine (like strong tea) and pale faeces (putty coloured poo)
- Whites of the eyes and skin turn yellow (jaundice)
Transmission of hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is very infectious. The virus is transmitted through food or water that has been contaminated with faeces. In tropical regions, you could get hepatitis A from any contact with contaminated water. Hepatitis A is also passed on during anal sex: licking the anus (rimming), fingering, fist fucking (fisting) or just touching your sex partner’s anus. And you can become infected with the virus by using a towel or tap that has come into contact with faeces.
Rules of hygiene against hepatitis A
There is currently an outbreak of hepatitis A among gay men in Europe. You can help to prevent hepatitis A spreading any further by:
- Washing your hands with soap and water after going to the toilet and before cooking/eating;
- Washing your hands with soap and water before and after sex (or taking a shower);
- Not sharing any sex toys;
- Using condoms or latex gloves for anal sex, rimming, fingering, fisting, etc.
Preventing hepatitis A
Get vaccinated to prevent infection with hepatitis A. Two vaccinations usually give lifelong protection, but the first vaccination will immediately protect you against the virus. You can be vaccinated at the GGD or your doctor’s surgery. Vaccination against hepatitis A is not free. But your health insurance may cover some of the costs. Prices vary, depending on where you have it done, but it is usually about €50. It is best to phone for an appointment for hepatitis A vaccination. Search for an STI clinic near you.
Vaccination against hepatitis A and B
Besides vaccines that only protect against hepatitis A, there is now a special vaccine that protects against hepatitis A and B. It is called Twinrix. Ask the GGD about it when you go for your free hepatitis B vaccination. Then you will only pay the extra cost for the hepatitis A vaccination. You can make an appointment online for hepatitis B vaccination – see below. But don’t forget: you are only making an appointment for the hepatitis B vaccination! You will need to ask the GGD for the Twinrix vaccination when you are there.
Testing for hepatitis A
Your doctor will often be able to diagnose an infection with hepatitis A simply on the basis of what you describe. But a blood test will be necessary to confirm that diagnosis.
Treatment for hepatitis A
There are no drugs to treat hepatitis A, so you simply have to let the infection run its course. It may take months before you have completely recovered. Sometimes a hepatitis A infection leads to serious complications but there are drugs to treat those complications. Once you have had hepatitis A you will be immune, so you can never get the virus again.
In order to keep our information up to date, we regularly revise our pages. This page has last been modified in July 2017.
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