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Hepatitis A is on the rise among gay and bisexual men

By Darren Mew

Hepatitis A is on the rise in England — with most cases being recorded among gay and bisexual men, according to Public Health England.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease of the liver, normally spread through contaminated food or from person to person through inadequate hand-washing, but also through sex – including oral and anal sex. Those with multiple sexual partners are particularly at risk of acquiring it through sex.

PHE has linked an unusually high number of the new cases with travel to Spain.

Dr Michael Edelstein, PHE’s consultant epidemiologist in the hepatitis and blood safety department, said: “Public Health England is aware of an increase in hepatitis A cases, where we believe the infection has been spread through sex, most occurring in gay and bisexual men.

“Hepatitis A can be prevented by practising good personal hygiene, so we recommend gay and bisexual men wash their hands after sex and change condoms between any kind of sex to reduce their risk. Those who are concerned can seek advice from sexual health services about whether they would benefit from hepatitis A vaccination.”

Hepatitis A is not usually life-threatening but illness can last for weeks and sometimes requires hospitalisation. PHE is closely monitoring cases and working with its partners to ensure gay and bisexual men are aware of the disease, know how to protect themselves and seek advice.

Symptoms may include:

  • A short, mild, flu-like illness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and whites of eyes, darker yellow urine and pale faeces)
  • Itchy skin

People may have no symptoms at all, but they can still pass on the hepatitis virus to others. This is why it is important that gay and bisexual men are aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease as well as knowing how to protect themselves from infection.

If you think you are at risk or have any questions or concerns, contact your sexual health clinic.

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