Several viruses can cause hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver. These include hepatitis A, B, and C. A person can contract hepatitis A by consuming contaminated food and water.

In the United States, the most common forms of viral hepatitis are A, B, and C. A person can get hepatitis B and C through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, that contain the virus.

However, a person can contract hepatitis A from eating contaminated food.

This article looks at the link between hepatitis and what a person eats and drinks. It also discusses prevention strategies and explains what a person should do if they suspect that they have hepatitis.

A person preparing raw food which can transmit hepatitis.Share on Pinterest
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that the only form of viral hepatitis that can spread via contaminated food or water is hepatitis A. The virus primarily spreads when a person who is not vaccinated consumes contaminated food and water.

A person cannot contract hepatitis B or hepatitis C via contaminated food and water.

The transmission of hepatitis B can occur through:

  • contact with semen, blood, and other fluids
  • using equipment, such as a needle or syringe, that has blood on it from someone who has hepatitis B
  • sexual contact with someone who has the virus
  • sharing personal care items, such as razors and toothbrushes

Hepatitis C spreads through blood. Needle sharing, contaminated blood transfusions, and using unsanitary medical equipment, such as needles or other devices, can all allow hepatitis C to spread from one person to another.

Hepatitis B and C transmission can also occur during childbirth and in healthcare facilities with insufficient infection control.

The Washington State Department of Health states that a person can come into contact with hepatitis A if they eat food or drink water that is contaminated with the feces of a person who has the virus.

The virus can, therefore, spread from a person who does not wash their hands after using the bathroom and then touches food.

The food itself can also be contaminated with hepatitis A. For example, people can contract hepatitis A if they eat oysters that farmers have harvested from sewage-contaminated water.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that cases of hepatitis A are not common in the U.S. However, when they do happen, an outbreak occurs during which several people become sick.

Although a person can contract hepatitis A from nearly any food or drink, some common causes of outbreaks in the U.S. include:

  • salads
  • water
  • raw fruit or berries
  • shellfish
  • raw vegetables

It can take 14–28 days for a person to show signs of hepatitis A infection. The symptoms can be mild or severe, but they rarely result in death.

The symptoms of hepatitis A include:

It can take between a few weeks and several months for a person to recover from hepatitis A.

A person might not experience all of the above symptoms, which are more common in adults than children. Children under the age of 6 years have the highest chance of being asymptomatic.

A person should contact a doctor if they suspect that they have consumed contaminated food or drink. The doctor can test for the infection.

For those who are unvaccinated, a healthcare professional may administer postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 2 weeks of exposure. PEP consists of:

  • the hepatitis A vaccine for those aged 1–40 years old
  • immunoglobin that is specific to hepatitis for those who are not in the above age range

A person does not require PEP if they have had the vaccination or previously had hepatitis A.

The CDC states that all healthcare facilities need to report confirmed cases of hepatitis A to local, state, and national authorities for tracking. These facilities will only share the number of reported cases, not the individuals’ personal health data.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. People should consume plenty of fluids to replace those lost as a result of diarrhea and vomiting.

People should avoid taking acetaminophen, paracetamol, or medications that reduce vomiting.

People can reduce the risk of hepatitis A transmission by:

  • washing their hands for 20 seconds using warm soap and water before handling raw foods
  • washing their hands after changing diapers
  • washing their hands after using the bathroom

People should also sanitize their kitchen using the following steps:

  1. Wash cutting boards, countertops, utensils, and the inside of the fridge walls and shelves.
  2. Sanitize the above using a solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of hot water.
  3. Dry these areas using a clean cloth or paper towel.

Hepatitis A vaccine

A person can also get a vaccination for hepatitis A.

The CDC recommends vaccination for all children aged 12–23 months. The organization also advises that older children who did not get the vaccination at a younger age should get it as soon as possible.

Other groups, such as men who have sex with men and those who travel internationally, should also get the vaccination.

A person should speak with a doctor to determine whether they require a vaccination.

A person can contract hepatitis A from consuming contaminated food or water. This can occur when a person with the virus prepares or touches food and drink after not washing their hands properly after using the bathroom.

To help prevent the spread of hepatitis A, people should ensure that they wash their hands and clean their kitchens thoroughly.

People should also speak with a doctor to check whether they require the hepatitis A vaccine.