Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Hepatits A Virus

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus. It is related to many other types of viruses that cause disease like the common cold. In the last decade Hepatitis A was the fourth leading cause of reported food-borne illness outbreaks. Symptoms of Hepatitis A may be unrecognized in children under two and are a silent source in spreading the disease. It is most often spread by adults changing the childrens’ diapers and then not adequately washing their hands. Food or work areas are then indirectly contaminated by the Hepatitis A virus when the adult prepares or handles food.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A include a fever, malaise, nausea, poor appetite, and abdominal pain. Several days later jaundice sets in and your skin turns yellow. Recovery can take place in 1 to 2 weeks or can take several months. The greatest danger of spreading the disease to others occurs well before the symptoms appear - that is why good, thorough hand washing is so important. There is no treatment for Hepatitis A after you get it. After you’ve had Hepatitis A, you’re not likely to get reinfected.

This virus is excreted by infected people and can produce disease in people around them if good hygiene is not used especially if they consume contaminated water or foods. The most common foods associated with outbreaks of Hepatitis A are sandwiches with luncheon meat, fruits and fruit juices, milk and milk products. Other foods tracked down during outbreaks are vegetables, salads, shellfish, and iced drinks. However, water, shellfish, and salads are the most common sources. Contamination of foods by infected workers in food processing plants and restaurants is also common.

Hepatitis A is usually transmitted by person-to-person contact. Outbreaks also occur from contaminated food and water. Prevention focuses on personal hygiene with hand washing after using the rest room and changing diapers. Proper sanitation measures are very important. Clean rest rooms, proper sewage disposal, and water treatment facilities are essential in controlling this virus. Hepatitis A can be killed by cooking foods thoroughly. Do NOT eat raw shellfish. Chlorine will inactivate this virus in water and on counter tops.


Material written by Ralph Meer and Scottie Misner, June 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
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