Public Health England issued a statement today (June 8) after the cases were identified at City Academy Whitehawk, Brighton.
It added that there were eight cases in the local community (including the five at the school) and urged people to take extra care with their hand hygiene, especially after using the toilet, changing nappies, or before preparing food, and to ensure the washing of unpeeled fruit and vegetables.
Dr Margot Nicholls, consultant in Health Protection with Public Health England South East, said: “Hepatitis A is usually a mild illness for children and the vaccinations at the school are a preventative measure to help prevent transmission and protect the local community from further cases.
“The immunisation is being offered to all pupils and to the vast majority of staff who have been assessed as being at greater risk of acquiring Hepatitis A.
“Since Hepatitis A was confirmed in the local area we have worked closely with City Academy Whitehawk to ensure the health and wellbeing of pupils and staff. Together we have tried to ensure that parents are fully informed and made aware of symptoms of the virus as well as steps to take if they suspect they or their child may have Hepatitis A.”
Public Health England and Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust are offering vaccinations to all 375 pupils and 68 staff to take place next Thursday (June 14).
Mark Church, head of school at City Academy Whitehawk, said: “We wish those children who have contracted Hepatitis A a speedy recovery to good health and look forward to welcoming them back to school.
"We understand that news of illness among children is always a worrying time for families which is why we are working closely with Public Health England and Brighton and Hove City Council, NHS Brighton & Hove CCG and NHS England to ensure we can do everything possible to help prevent further cases.
“However, as we always find here at City Academy Whitehawk we have had a fantastic response from our school, parents and local community. We are very grateful to PHE and the NHS who have provided amazing support for us and our families and we are very pleased to be working in partnership with them to offer the Hepatitis A vaccinations at the school.
“Although PHE has advised that no cases were contracted within the school, our primary concern remains the welfare of children and staff which is why we are following PHE advice on public health and taking all sensible precautions by ensuring thorough handwashing, not sharing drinks mugs and use of specialist cleaning products.
“We continue to monitor the situation and will update families every step of the way, starting with a special PHE arranged Q&A session for parents of the school.
“I would like to thank all of our pupils, parents and staff for the very calm manner with which they have responded to this whole situation. We are very proud of them all.”
Public Health England advice to anyone who suspects they may have Hepatitis A is to contact their local GP surgery.
Dr Nicholls added: “Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus, leading to inflammation of the liver; it is spread from person-to-person through the faecal-oral route or via contaminated food or drink and is often acquired when travelling abroad. Initial symptoms of hepatitis A are similar to flu and include mild fever, joint and muscle pain, feeling and being sick and diarrhoea. This may then be followed by other symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), itchy skin, passing very dark urine and pale stools. Anyone with these symptoms should speak to their local GP surgery.
“To help prevent the spread of infections it is important to wash hands with liquid soap and warm water and dry thoroughly, particularly after going to the toilet / changing nappies and before eating. In addition any fruit or vegetables that cannot be peeled or cooked before eating, including salad produce, should always be washed thoroughly before eating.”
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms
Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, jaundice and a general feeling of malaise in adults. It is usually mild in young children and many have no symptoms at all.
Patients normally make a complete recovery and have life-long immunity thereafter. The hepatitis A virus can spread from person to person, but it usually requires close contact.
Thorough handwashing with soap and water following the ‘Wet; Soap; Wash; Rinse; Dry’ routine is important to prevent the spread of infection, especially after using the toilet, before eating or drinking, and before preparing food or meals. Smaller children may need encouragement and assistance to wash their hands well.
For more information about Hepatitis A, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-a/