What it's like to actually have Hepatitis A. (From someone who's been there.)

Image: iStock

Admittedly, it took me a little while to work out what was going on.

The dramatic weight loss should have alerted me to the fact that something wasn’t quite right. To be fair, however, I was 18, I’d just moved out of home and I was partying rather hard. I wasn’t even overly concerned by the dark pee that has suddenly started to appear every time I went to the toilet, silently reminding myself to drink more water.

Actually it wasn’t until I crawled into bed with a suspected bout of the flu and yet could barely move a week later, did I bother to get myself to the doctor.

What the colour of your urine says about your body.

The doctor took one look at me and said, rather bluntly, “You’ve got yellow jaundice or to be technical, Hepatitis A. We’ll take some blood tests but your yellow eyes and skin alone tell me that’s what’s going on.”

My immediate feeling was fear. I’d heard the word Hepatitis before and although I wouldn’t say I knew exactly what it was, I knew it wasn’t good. You need to keep in mind here, the year was 1993 and there was no easy access to Google. All I did have was a horrifying and unsubstantiated feeling that I was going to DIE.

Bern (left) when she was 18.

I remember staring at my doctor in disbelief. My immediate question was HOW had I contracted Hepatitis A. The doctor told me, and I quote, “Well, a fly could have flown into the sugar bowl at your local café and shat in it”.

As you might be able to tell, he had a wonderful bedside manner.

He went on to say that it’s generally caused by unhygienic practices. Not necessarily my own but possibly someone who had prepared my food. Did I eat shellfish he asked? No, was my answer. Did I make a habit of washing my hands was his next question.


I remember I started to cry at this point, through exhaustion, shock or humiliation I can’t be sure. “Of course I did!” I said to him through my tears.

“I knew something was wrong when I saw blood in the toilet.”

He looked uncomfortable but not so uncomfortable he didn’t start to rattle off a whole heap of facts.

I heard all these words being thrown at me.

“It’s a virus” and “spread by contaminated faeces” and it is “oral” and I was, by this stage, sobbing. "But don’t worry," he said, "once you’ve had it, you’ll have lifelong immunity to it". My mother, who had to talk on my behalf by this stage, asked him what we could do to treat it and his answer was this: “Nothing”. Although he did suggest bed rest and eating smaller meals and eliminating fat and alcohol from my diet. These were hardly optional, I could barely move and eating was almost impossible. I think I practically lived on apples and dry toast for 2 months.

I never did work out how or why I contracted it. If it was so easy to catch, why hadn’t my best friend been exposed to it while working in a child care centre with toddlers who, let’s face it, weren’t exactly known for their exceptional hygiene standards? I was single at the time and not even having sex, let alone anything remotely kinky so again, no dice. I didn’t eat shellfish, I washed my hands to the point of being anal (pardon the pun) and really, just couldn’t understand why out of everyone, I was the one who was lying in bed unable to move.

The woman who caught HIV from a manicure.

Around six weeks later I felt well enough to return to work but still not even close to achieving to the level health I had so blatantly taken for granted before I had gotten sick. Eventually I turned to acupuncture and alternative medicine where, along with a bunch of foul tasting herbs, I was advised to never drink again. Let me reiterate this: NEVER drink again. You would think, as an 18 year old, someone who had just legally been allowed to drink, that this would be the worst thing about the contracting the virus. But it wasn’t.

Two brands of frozen berries were linked to three Hep A cases in Australia this weekend.


The worst thing was the humiliation I still felt every time I ran someone through the illness. All anyone heard was the word, hepatitis. Hell, that’s all I had heard at first.

I know now that the virus can survive for several hours outside the body and is resistant to both heating and freezing, meaning it’s almost indestructible.

While full recovery is the usual outcome (and was for me), much like Chronic Fatigue or Glandular fever, during the time of infection I can honestly say I have never felt more unwell.

I’ve had three babies and endured three bouts of horrific morning sickness and I still maintain this to be true.

“I had accepted that this is the way it would always be.”

It must be noted that Hepatitis A is completely different to Strains B and C, which can be both considered much more detrimental to long term health and even, terminal.

So be careful, kids; or like me, I guess even being careful can’t always help you. Maybe the lesson here is to be aware both as a patient and someone who might find themselves alongside someone who is infected. Know that you do get back to your old self again. Eventually.

Oh, and throw out all of your frozen berries. Like right now.

Have you ever experienced a health scare like this?