Hepatitis A is a highly transmissible liver infection caused by the virus “Hepatitis A”. It is one of many hepatitis viruses that leads to liver inflammation and affects its ability to function properly.
Contaminated water or food, or close contact with an infected object or an infected person are the potential causes for the spread of hepatitis A infection. Mild hepatitis A cases do not require treatment. Many infected people recover fully without permanent liver damage.
The best ways to protect yourself against hepatitis A include practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently. In addition, vaccines are available for people who are at a higher risk.
Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis A
Signs and symptoms generally appear only after a few weeks of infection. However, not everyone with hepatitis A develops the symptoms. If you do develop the symptoms of hepatitis, they may include:
- Sudden nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Discomfort or pain in the abdominal, particularly on the upper right side under the lower ribs (by your liver)
- Jaundice (yellowing of your skin and eyes getting white)
- Dark urine
- Intense itching
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Low-grade fever
- Joint pains
While these symptoms can be relatively mild and go away in some days (few weeks), sometimes infection leads to a severe sickness that may last for several months.
What are its Causes?
It is an infection of liver cells and liver inflammation caused by contracting the hepatitis A virus (HAV). While hepatitis A does not spread by coughing or sneezing, you may get the disease by eating foods or drinking water that a person had contaminated with the virus. Some specific ways hepatitis A virus can spread include:
- Drinking contaminated water
- Consuming fruits and vegetables or other foods items prepared or handled by a person who has the virus and does not wash/her hands thoroughly after using the toilet
- Eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage
- Touching your mouth after touching a contaminated object
- Having sex with the person who has the virus
- Being in close contact with someone infected — even if that individual has no signs or symptoms
You can be at a higher risk if you::
- Are HIV positive
- Travel or work in countries where hepatitis A is common
- Live with a person having hepatitis A
- Are a man having sexual contact with other men
- Have haemophilia, a clotting-factor disorder
- Use any illegal recreational drugs (even those that are not injected)
When to see a doctor
Consult a doctor as soon as you see any of the signs or symptoms of hepatitis A.
Taking an immunoglobulin (an antibody) injection or a hepatitis A vaccine within two weeks of hepatitis A exposure may protect you from the infection. Ask your doctor or your healthcare provider about getting the hepatitis A vaccine if:
- You have travelled out of your country recently, mainly to Central or South America, or Mexico, or to places with poor sanitation
- A person close to you like a caregiver, roommate, partner is diagnosed with hepatitis A
- An eatery or restaurant where you have had food recently reports a hepatitis A outbreak
- You had sex with someone recently who has had hepatitis A
How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?
Your doctor may order for a blood test to check for the presence of infection after discussing your symptoms. The blood test may reveal the presence (or the absence) of the virus.
Some people may experience only a few symptoms and no signs of the jaundice. With no visible signs of jaundice, it is difficult to diagnose any type of hepatitis through a physical exam. Infectious hepatitis can remain undiagnosed when symptoms are minimal. Complications due to a lack of the diagnosis are rare.
Complications from Hepatitis A Infection
Unlike other viral hepatitis, hepatitis A does not become chronic and does not lead to a long-term liver damage.
In some rare cases, infectious hepatitis may cause a sudden loss of liver function, especially in older people or those with chronic liver diseases. Acute liver failure needs a stay in the hospital for observation and treatment. Those with acute liver failure may require a liver transplant.
Prevention Hepatitis A Infection
The hepatitis A vaccine is the most significant way to prevent infection with the virus. Usually, the vaccine is given in a series of two shots with the first one followed by a booster shot after 6 or 12 months.
The vaccine is recommended for the following people:
- All children aged one or older who did not receive the childhood vaccine
- Infants aged six to 11 months who are travelling internationally
- People in direct contact with those who have hepatitis A
- Lab workers who may come in contact with the hepatitis A virus
- Men having sex with men
- People working or travelling to other countries where hepatitis A is common
- People using illegal recreational drugs (including the non-injectable ones)
- People with chronic liver disease like hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People with haemophilia, a clotting-factor disorders
If you are concerned about the risk of contracting hepatitis A, ask your doctor if you can get vaccinated.
To reduce your chance of contracting hepatitis A, you should also follow these safety precautions while travelling
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with warm water and soap thoroughly before drinking or eating and after using the bathroom
- Prefer drinking bottled water over local water in any developing nation or in countries with a higher risk of getting hepatitis A. If bottled water is unavailable, boil local water before drinking it
- Eat at well-established, clean restaurants, rather than from any street vendors
- Avoid all beverages of unknown purity (with or without ice)
- Avoid eating raw or peeled fruit and vegetables in a place with low sanitation or hygienic standards
- Avoid eating undercooked meat or fish