#AskDocQ: Do I Need The Free Hepatitis A Vaccine?

I’ve heard there’s a free Hep A vaccine at the moment, do I need it?

Queensland Health has made the Hepatitis A vaccine available free for men who have sex with men. This is because there is currently an outbreak of this infection in the southern states of Australia, and there have now been a couple of cases here in Brisbane.

Hepatitis A is a virus which is spread by faecal-oral transmission, so it’s easy to catch it through rimming or any other sex that potentially involves your lips or tongue coming into contact with a body part that has been up against or in someone’s arse.

Hep A is a particularly unglamorous illness. It can make you very sick indeed. The liver becomes painfully inflamed and you can become jaundiced–your skin and eyes turn yellow and your pee turns quite dark. Usually there’s a lot of vomiting and diarrhoea, fever and generally feeling awful.

If you get a severe case of Hep A it can kill you–there has just been a reported fatality from Hep A in Victoria. The mortality rate is about 5 per thousand people, and goes up to 20 per thousand in people over 50.

The vaccination prevents 94% of cases, and involves having 1 shot then a booster at a later time. I recommend the Hep A vaccine for all sexually active men who have sex with men, including those on PrEP.

The vaccine is also recommended for travel to developing countries, so if you have had a holiday to Bali or somewhere exotic, you may already be immune!

Currently the free Hep A vaccine is only available from the Brisbane Sexual Health Service at Biala in Roma Street and Clinic 30 at QuAC. Be smart and get vaccinated!

Hep A can be fatal

The need for people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A has been highlighted by a rare Hep A death of a man in Victoria. Melbourne’s The Age newspaper recently reported the death in the context of a recent spike in new Hep A cases in Victoria.

There have been 42 cases confirmed, while 23 are still being verified. Victoria’s Health department confirmed all these were men, many gay or bisexual, or injecting drug users.

This spike comes after recent similar surges in Hep A infection rates in Europe and North America, coupled with a supply shortage of the Hep A vaccine in some of these countries.

Dr Fiona Bisshop specialises in LGBT health and is available by appointment at Holdsworth House Medical Brisbane. Call (07) 3894 0794 or visit the Holdsworth House website. Read more by Dr Fiona Bisshop on her website or contact her on Twitter.

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Dr Fiona Bisshop

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