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Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis means ‘inflammation of the liver’. It can be caused by viruses passed on during sex: different viruses cause different types of hepatitis, some more serious than others.

Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common viruses. Vaccinations can protect against hepatitis A and B and there’s a free combined vaccine that protects against both A and B. All gay and bisexual men should get vaccinated, especially if they have sex with a lot of men.

Find out more about hepatitis A vaccination and treatment.

How common is hepatitis A?

Many gay and bisexual men have had hepatitis A, which is why many clinics offer vaccination against it free.

Most people with hepatitis A are diagnosed by their doctor. 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 causes hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus found in shit. It’s spread when tiny amounts of shit get into your mouth.

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:

  • rimming
  • fingering and fisting
  • fucking without condoms
  • handling used condoms and dildos
  • scat.

Find out how to protect yourself against hepatitis A and about getting treated.

Last review: 25/09/2014
Next review: 31/09/2017