NSW Health has launched an investigation into a hepatitis A outbreak following confirmation of 12 cases in the past five weeks alone in Sydney and surrounding areas.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases with NSW Health, said 10 of these people contracted the disease in Australia – considerably higher than the average two cases of locally acquired hepatitis A each year.
“NSW Health is working with the NSW Food Authority to investigate the outbreak, including assessment of patterns of food distribution and any links to overseas outbreaks. However, no specific food has yet been connected to the outbreak,” said Dr Sheppeard.
“Hepatitis A is usually contracted overseas in high-risk countries, but 10 of these 12 people notified to NSW Health since July 26 have had no recent overseas travel.
“Travellers to high-risk countries and anyone at higher risk of infection, including men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, sewerage workers and childcare workers, should ensure that they are vaccinated against hepatitis A.
“Two doses of vaccine prevent infection and is available through GPs.”
Australia has a low incidence of hepatitis A and when outbreaks occur they are linked to consumption of contaminated food products or person-to-person spread.
There have been between 41 and 82 cases of Hepatitis A notified to NSW Health each year since 2013, mostly in people returning from high-risk countries.
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that spreads in contaminated food or through poor hygiene. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin, dark urine and pale stools.
The risk of spreading hepatitis A can be reduced by washing hands thoroughly, particularly after going to the toilet, touching soiled linen or items, changing nappies and before preparing or eating food.
Several hepatitis A outbreaks have been reported internationally in the past six months where hepatitis A is usually uncommon, including in Europe and California.