Protecting yourself from Hepatitis A and B, Singapore

What is Hepatitis A and B?

Hepatitis is a form of liver disease caused by a group of viruses which target liver cells and are named alphabetically with the letters A to E.  Of these, the 3 commonest viruses are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is spread usually through unclean food whereas Hepatitis B and C are diseases spread through blood, body fluids or the sharing of contaminated needles. Both Hepatitis B and C are linked to liver cancer. You can get vaccinated against both Hepatitis A and B using a single combined vaccine. While no vaccination is available for Hepatitis C, there are new means of therapy available for those affected with Hepatitis C.

Who is at risk of contracting Hepatitis A and B?

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A infection is spread when we eat or drink contaminated food and water. This happens when food is not thoroughly cleaned, eaten raw or undercooked. Commonly contaminated foods include shellfish or fruits and vegetables cleaned with untreated water.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B infection is spread by blood and body fluids through sexual contact, the sharing of needles in drug abusers or through lack of sterility in procedures such as tattooing or when there are lapses in medical clinics. It can also be transmitted from mother to her child during childbirth. The child may then become a Hepatitis B carrier.

 

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A and B?

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A has signs and symptoms similar to food poisoning such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. However, it lats longer and the person becomes develops tired and may have right-sided abdominal discomfort as the result of liver inflammation. His skin and the white of his eye may turn yellowish, a condition termed jaundice.  A blood test will show changes in liver enzymes. 

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B has similar signs and symptoms to Hepatitis A except that the condition is usually more severe and long-lasting. Even after the clinical illness is over, the virus usually remains circulating within the bloodstream making the patient a Hepatitis B carrier even if he no longer has symptoms or liver damage. However, the disease is known to flare up and jaundice, tiredness, and right-sided abdominal pain may return. In severe flare-ups, liver failure and even death can occur, if untreated. 

How to protect yourself with Hepatitis A and B vaccination in Singapore?

To avoid Hepatitis A, always eat food that is properly washed and cooked. In addition, consider having a vaccination especially if you enjoy oysters and shellfish. The hepatitis A vaccine consists of 2 doses administered 6 months apart. This provides lifelong immunity from Hepatitis A.

 

Hepatitis B vaccine requires 3 injections, administered in months 1, 3 and 6. Immunity may even be lifelong though it is useful to check the protection level occasionally. If your partner or family member has Hepatitis B, or if you working an environment with exposure to body fluids, you should be vaccinated as well.

A combined Hepatitis A and B vaccine is also available and can confer immunity to both diseases and is recommended.