Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver which can be prevented by receiving a free vaccination
A recent outbreak of Hepatitis A (HAV) in Europe is causing health experts to fear the impact that World Pride in Madrid this month could have on the virus’ spread.
The UK has been badly affected by this outbreak, with 500 cases of HAV reported already. Cases in the UK are predominantly centred in London.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has issued a moderate to high risk warning for sexually transmitted infections, including Hepatitis A, for World Pride 2017.
The ECDC are urging participants at World Pride to “practice safer sex using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
“They should also avoid faecal-oral exposure during sexual activity and ensure proper personal hygiene to prevent other infections,” including Hepatitis A, the EU health organisation recommended.
What Is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver disease which is passed on from the faeces of infected patients.
The ECDC indicate that it “is highly transmissible through faecal-oral route,” meaning that gay and bi men who engage in anal sex, oral sex and rimming with other men are at increased risk of contracting the disease.
The symptoms of the virus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, jaundice, fever and pain in the abdomen.
The incubation period is between two weeks and seven weeks following contact with the virus, with patients being infectious from two weeks before the onset of symptoms to one or more weeks afterwards.
For those who do become infected with Hepatitis A, their bodies will attempt to fight the virus by producing antibodies, however not everyone’s immune system will be successful at eradicating the virus, which could cause a very small number of those infected to lose their lives.
How To Stay Protected
Luckily, a vaccine exists which can immunise those at high risk such as men who have sex with men (MSM) against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, however no vaccine exists for Hepatitis C.
In Ireland, HSE run sexual health clinics like the GMHS on Baggot St provide vaccination against Hepatitis A and B for free for men who attend the facility, and for the first time this year they will also provide the HPV vaccine which protects against warts and the development of anal and penile cancers.
Once the vaccine has been successfully administered, it usually provides lifelong cover against the two Hepatitis strains.
The ECDC are recommending MSM to check with their healthcare provider to see if they have been vaccinated and if they remain covered or if they need a booster vaccine to ensure their continued protection.
Apart from verifying vaccination status, maintaining good hygiene routines can help reduce the risk of becoming infected.
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