What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a form of hepatitis caused by a virus that infects the liver. It’s really easy to pass on through sex. You can get vaccinated against hepatitis A (usually in a combined hep A and B vaccine). All gay and bisexual men should get vaccinated, especially if they have sex with a lot of men.
How common is hepatitis A?
Many gay and bisexual men have had hepatitis A, and many clinics offer vaccination free.
Many people have mild symptoms, recover and don’t even realise they’ve had it.
Hepatitis A is usually the least serious of the three main types of hepatitis, but it can still make you very ill. If you have another liver problem (for example if you have hepatitis C), picking up hepatitis A can be very bad news.
There are sometimes outbreaks of hepatitis A among gay and bisexual men and it’s easy to pick up. People travelling in countries where hygiene is poor risk getting it too.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
The symptoms of hepatitis A can be mild, so you may not realise you have it. But around two to six weeks after being infected you may feel mild flu-like symptoms.
You can also:
- have a fever or diarrhoea
- feel sick or very tired
- lose weight
- feel pain in the stomach
- feel sick when faced with tobacco smoke, fatty food or alcohol
- have itchy skin.
You may get jaundice, which means:
- your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow
- your shit goes a pale colour
- your piss is dark-coloured.
The illness can last for many weeks, and it may take months to get your strength back. You’ll be most infectious before symptoms show.
How is hepatitis A passed on?
The virus, contained in shit, needs to get into your mouth to infect you. Minute traces of shit can be left on your hands and on food prepared by an infectious person. Water can also become contaminated, especially abroad.
During sex, shit can get on your fingers and in your mouth through:
- fingering and fisting
- fucking without condoms
- handling used condoms and dildos
How is hepatitis A prevented?
You can protect yourself from hepatitis A by getting vaccinated. You might be able to get vaccinated for free by your GP or a sexual health clinic. The vaccine protects you for 10 years or longer.
Until you do, you might reduce the risk by:
- avoiding any sex involving contact with shit
- using condoms for fucking
- washing your hands after handling used condoms or dildos, or fingering someone
- using a latex barrier between the arse and mouth of you and the man you’re rimming
- using latex gloves and water-based lube when fisting or fingering.
Vaccination and HIV
For some people with HIV, the liver inflammation that hepatitis A causes can mean that they might need to stop taking their HIV treatment or other medicines. Discuss this with your doctor.
How is hepatitis A treated?
The treatment for hepatitis A is plenty of rest, which can mean many weeks off sick. Your doctor will tell you to avoid drinking alcohol while your liver recovers: this may be for up to a year. You may not feel like smoking and will need to avoid party drugs.
A blood test can show when you’ve fully recovered.
Last review: 09/11/2018
Next review: 09/11/2021