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Gay and bisexual men urged to have hepatitis A vaccine

MSM advised to take precautions to avoid infection with virus

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Public Health England is urging gay and bisexual men to take extra precautions against infection with hepatitis A, because cases are increasingly reported among men who have sex with men (MSM). It issued the warning ahead of World Pride Madrid 2017, the worldwide event for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community that starts this Friday and lasts for over a week.

PHE said that although the highly infectious virus can be transmitted through food or water contaminated with faeces, the recent cases among MSM are believed to have been spread through oral or anal sex. It explained that those most at risk are MSM with multiple partners, while some cases have been linked to those visiting Spain and other European countries; and although cases are more prevalent in London, more people could be exposed to the virus as people travel within the UK or further abroad this summer.

It pointed out that the Spanish government has asked those attending World Pride to get protected, but there are some vaccine shortages locally. Because of this, PHE is encouraging those going to Madrid to visit their genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic before they travel, to request the vaccine.

PHE is also urging MSM not going to this year’s World Pride in Madrid, to ask about the hepatitis A vaccine next time they visit their GUM clinic for a sexual health check-up.

It advises unvaccinated MSM to avoid infection through careful hygiene during and after sex, by:

  • washing hands after sex (ideally buttocks, groin and penis too);
  • using protection for fingering, rimming and fisting;
  • changing condoms between anal and oral sex;
  • avoiding sharing sex toys.

PHE’s head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay said: “Hepatitis A among gay and bisexual men is significantly higher than usual, making it important to take extra care – especially if travelling to other countries. MSM and bisexual men are at highest risk and should ask about the hepatitis A vaccine next time they visit a GUM clinic.”

Terrence Higgins Trust is working with PHE to raise awareness of the preventative measures, as well as symptoms of hepatitis A, to avoid further spread of the virus. Cary James, head of health improvement at the charity, said: “We’re concerned about the outbreak of hepatitis A, a virus which affects the liver. Gay and bisexual men are particularly affected so we would urge them to follow PHE’s advice around vaccination, be aware of the symptoms and follow the prevention advice.

“By following these easy steps, you will stay protected and can enjoy a safe, healthy and happy Pride season.”

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