Two health agencies in Australia are investigating a cluster of hepatitis A infections in the South Korean community.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Health Directorate and New South Wales (NSW) Health reported eight adults of South Korean heritage have been affected since June. Most of them did not report recent overseas travel.

Those sick live in South Eastern Sydney, Northern Sydney, and Western Sydney.

Australia has a low incidence of hepatitis A and outbreaks are usually linked to eating contaminated food or person-to-person spread. However, so far the investigation has not connected any specific food to the infections. South Korea, where hepatitis A is usually rare, is experiencing a large outbreak with more than 11,000 cases reported so far this year.

Hygiene and vaccination advice

The ACT Health Directorate reminded the South Korean community in Canberra and anyone traveling to South Korea of the importance of vaccination prior to travel and good hand hygiene to reduce the risk of spread.

Two doses of vaccine prevent infection, and at least one dose is strongly recommended prior to travel to countries where hepatitis A poses a risk.

Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, director communicable diseases at NSW Health, said the agency is working with the NSW Food Authority to determine whether cases are linked to a food source.

“Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that spreads in contaminated food or through poor hygiene. Symptoms may be very mild, especially in young children, but anyone with symptoms should see their doctor right away and not handle food for other people,” she said.

“Hepatitis A can easily spread from person to person, which is a real risk among the South Korean community in Sydney at present, so we are urging people to take particular care with hygiene. This includes washing hands thoroughly in soap and water for at least 15 seconds and drying them thoroughly.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States recently revealed that 29 states have reported 24,280 hepatitis A illnesses since 2016 with 14,525 or 60 percent requiring hospitalization and 236 people have died.

Symptoms include feeling unwell, tiredness, fever, nausea, lack of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and joint pain, followed by dark urine, pale stools, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyeballs and skin).

Illness is usually mild and lasts one to three weeks. Small children who become infected usually have no symptoms. The period between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms is usually about four weeks but can range from two to seven weeks.

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