Hepatitis A is on the rise in the Sydney gay community and in a new campaign ACON is urging all gay men who haven’t had the infection to get vaccinated.
Dr Basil Donovan from the Sydney Sexual Health Centre told the Star that a rise in cases of hepatitis A amongst gay men had been detected over the last few months.
The Sydney gay community has been experiencing major outbreaks of hepatitis A about once every five to six years, Donovan said. The first one in recent times was in 91/92, the next one in 95/96, so we knew we were due for one around about now.
The cycle of outbreaks is due to the growth, over a five-year period, of people susceptible to the virus.
Once you’ve had hepatitis A or once you’ve been vaccinated you’re no longer susceptible, Donovan explained. So what starts the outbreaks is that over five years the percentage of gay men who are susceptible increases. With the influx of new gay men arriving in Sydney, this leaves a big enough pool of gay men who are susceptible to get an outbreak going. The outbreaks are usually in the order of 1,000 cases. What happens over the next six months is this flows onto Brisbane and Melbourne and Adelaide.
What we are hoping to do by encouraging people to be vaccinated is to reduce the size of the susceptible pool and abort the outbreak, Donovan said.
Hepatitis A can be sexually transmitted through activities like rimming where tiny particles of shit enter the mouth. However, Donovan emphasised that it could also be transmitted through sharing food and some other forms of social contact. He said that flatmates of people with hepatitis A were about 50 percent likely to also contract the virus.
Hepatitis A causes vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice and can last for upwards of eight weeks. It can be very serious for people with HIV.
Donovan emphasised that the hepatitis A vaccine was highly effective, lasts for life, and is very safe.