Department of Health

Hepatitis E alert letter sent to cruise passengers

23/02/17
Published by Department of Health & Human Services

As a purely precautionary measure letters have been sent to passengers who travelled on two recent cruises from Melbourne on the Golden Princess to encourage them to be alert to symptoms of Hepatitis E.

This follows the cruise line notifying the Department of Health and Human Services that a crew member who worked on the ship had been diagnosed with the illness.

The passengers are at very low risk and are unlikely to become unwell, and there is no risk to the Victorian community. Hepatitis E is described as a mild illness from which most people get better without treatment. It is not a chronic form of hepatitis.

Any potential exposure for passengers was limited to a week-long period from 8 to 15 February 2017.

"The risk of transmission between the crew member and passengers is very low," Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Charles Guest said.

"The cruise line has strict public health and hygiene policies to prevent the risk of spread of infections on board the ship, and the Hepatitis E infection is rarely spread from person to person. However, we are alerting passengers who have received the department's letter to look out for symptoms."

"Symptoms can develop 15 to 60 days after infection with an average of around 40 days. Although any risk is very low, it is possible that people who were exposed on these cruises may develop symptoms from late February until mid-April."

Symptoms can include abdominal pain, loss of appetite and weight loss, nausea and vomiting, fever and chills, diarrhea, yellow skin and eyes, dark urine and pale faeces.

Hepatitis E infection is very uncommon in Australia. It may occur in travellers returned from overseas who have contracted the virus from contaminated food or water. The infection is caused by a virus that causes inflammation of the liver.

Professor Guest said the infection usually causes mild illness and most people get better without treatment. Children may have infection with no symptoms.

"It can be more serious for those with existing liver disease, those who have weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, especially in the third trimester," he said.

Anyone who may have concerns or symptoms should see their GP.

For urgent inquiries call the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 651 160 in Australia.

Reviewed 23 February 2017

Health.vic

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Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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