Hepatitis A: Things You Should not Miss about This Vaccine-Preventable Disease
In this article, you will learn Hepatitis A symptoms, causes, treatments, risks, complications, vaccines, and interesting facts.
What’s your risk of having a Hepatitis A infection? Do you know what symptoms indicate an infection? What are your treatment options? Can you prevent it, if yes, how?
What is Hepatitis A?
It is a viral infection that causes inflamed liver and is highly contagious. The virus responsible for the infection is called Hepatitis A Virus (HAV). HAV is among a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the liver that may lead to potentially life-threatening complications.
People get sick by consuming contaminated food or water, or coming in contact with the infected person. Most people with the infection usually recover within a few weeks and may not require any treatment.
Rarely, some people may have serious symptoms that can last several months.
Hepatitis A: Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms usually develop 14 to 28 days after exposure to HAV. The period from exposure to the germs and appearance of the symptoms is known as the incubation period. Therefore, the incubation period of hepatitis A is 14 to 28 days. However, in some persons, the incubation period can extend up to 50 days.
Interestingly, you may not experience any symptoms even when you are carrying the virus. This is common among children younger than 6 years of age. However, others with the virus may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Generalized weakness
- Nausea and vomiting without any relatable cause
- Abdominal pain on the upper right side of the abdomen
- Clay-colored stools or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Pain in the joints
- Yellowish discoloration of the skin or the eyes (jaundice)
- Intense itching
Hepatitis A Causes: Person-to-Person Virus Transmission is Most Common
A virus called Hepatitis A virus causes Hepatitis A. The virus spreads when a healthy person consumes food or drink that have been contaminated with the fecal matter from the infected person. Less commonly, touching an infected surface or object can transmit the virus.
There have been no reports of Hepatitis A transmission through the droplets during sneezing or coughing.
You are able to get the virus by:
- Eating food that might have been contaminated by the infected person. For example, if the infected person doesn’t thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet and serves the food, you will most probably contract the infection.
- Drinking water that contains the virus.
- Consuming uncooked shellfish from sewage-contaminated water.
- Being in close personal contact with a person who has the virus in their systems. For example, caring for an ill person.
- Having unprotected sex with the infected person.
Who are at Risk?
The risk is high among the people who:
- Are living in countries that have poor sanitation and a lack of safe water.
- Abuse drugs with or without using injections.
- Have sex with the infected person.
- Are potentially exposed to the virus during their work, such as healthcare professionals.
- Come in direct contact with the infected person.
- Have HIV/AIDS, long-term liver disorders or disorders related to blood clotting.
Hepatitis A Treatment
Because Hepatitis A is short-lived and quite unlikely to cause severe symptoms, the treatments are usually supportive and directed towards controlling the symptoms.
This is by far the simplest and the most effective treatment for patients with mild illness. The infection can cause generalized weakness and fatigue. Thus, it is important to give them proper rest.
It is very common for patients to experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea during the infection. For this reason, maintaining proper nutrition can become difficult. Make sure to take high-calorie foods that are easy to digest. These include – whole-grain cereals and bread, oatmeal, avocado, berries, honey, mango, papaya etc.
In addition, you should drink plenty of water to replenish the fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting.
Say No to Alcohol and Certain Medications
Hepatitis A can impair your liver function. The liver is the major organ that processes alcohol and medications. Drinking alcohol during the illness can lead to serious complications.
Talk to your doctor to learn the medications that are safe for you. Do not forget to ask about the common over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Tylenol.
Hepatitis A Complications: Can It Cause Liver Failure?
Unlike Hepatitis B and C, Hepatitis A is not dangerous. Only in rare cases, it can cause long-term liver problems. In people with existing chronic liver diseases, it may lead to a potentially fatal condition called fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure). In some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.
How to Prevent Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a preventable infection and a number of ways can keep it at bay. Here’s a list of things to prevent it.
Get the Hepatitis A shot
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends vaccination for:
- All children at 1 year of age
- Travelers to countries where the risk of the illness is high
- Those who have a long-term liver disease, such as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- People who have disorders of blood clotting
- Anyone who comes in personal contact with the infected person
You will need a second shot after the first one to get maximum protection from the virus. The two shots are usually given six months apart.
Wash your hands
Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet and before preparing food or eating.
Precautions to follow if you are traveling
- Only eat fresh fruits and vegetables that have been thoroughly washed.
- Never eat raw or undercooked meat and fish.
- Drink only bottled water. If bottled water is not available, boil tap water for a few minutes.
Hepatitis A: 10 Interesting Facts
- You cannot get Hepatitis A twice. This is because once you recover from the infection; the body produces certain molecules that keep the virus from infecting you again.
- Humans are the only animals that can store the virus in their body.
- Vaccination within two weeks after the potential exposure may protect you from the virus.
- Globally, approximately 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A occur every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Hepatitis A vaccine first became available in the market in 1995. The vaccine has dramatically reduced the number of cases by more than 95 percent.
- The vaccine is safe for those with compromised immune systems.
- Side effects of the vaccine usually resolve within a day.
- Approximately 4,000 cases were reported in the United States in 2016.
- Up to 14% of patients that carry the virus may not show any symptoms.
- Among HIV-positive persons, post-vaccination Hepatitis A booster doses of the vaccine may be necessary after ten years.