Hepatitis A, also known as infectious hepatitis or simply Hep A, is a highly contagious liver disease caused by Hepatitis A Virus (HAV). As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), near about 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A take place throughout the world every year.
In this viral infection, an individual has liver inflammation when he or she is exposed to infection, toxins, alcohol abuse or immune diseases. This is typically an acute or short-term type of hepatitis that does not require treatment in most of the cases and resolves on its own without any permanent liver damage. This virus is one of the many types of hepatitis that results in inflammation and affects the functioning of liver.
This disease can spread through contaminated food and water or from close contact with an infected person. One of the best ways to prevent the infection is to practice good hygiene including washing hands frequently. Also, the people at high risk of infection are administered vaccines.
Now let’s look at its causes, risk factors, signs & symptoms, complications, diagnosis, treatment and preventions here.
The people developing hepatitis A infection come in contact with HAV through contaminated food or polluted water (that’s why it is a waterborne disease) that is infected by fecal matter containing the virus. After it gets transmitted, the virus spreads through the bloodstream to the liver causing inflammation and swelling.
As it is highly contagious, an infected person can also spread the hepatitis A infection.
Hepatitis A can be contracted when you:
- Drink polluted water
- Come into contact with Hep A-infected fecal matter
- Eat contaminated food prepared by a person having Hep A
- Eat sewage-contaminated raw shellfish
- Eat the food handled by those not following proper hand washing regimen before touching the food to be consumed
- Do not make use of condoms during intercourse with HAV infected partner
After you catch the virus, you are contagious two weeks before the symptoms appear. The contagious period ends nearly 1 week after the symptoms are seen.
Though the infection can spread from person to person, some factors increase the risk of contracting infection and they include:
- Being HIV positive
- Living in area where Hep A is widespread
- Getting sexually involved with an individual infected by Hepatitis virus
- Visiting the countries having low sanitation standards or lack of safe water
- Injecting or using illegal drugs
- Living with the person who is hepatitis A-positive
According to the WHO reports, over 90% children living in countries with low sanitation standards will have had a hepatitis A infection by the age of 10.
Signs & Symptoms
The hepatitis A symptoms usually do not appear until you have had the virus for a few weeks. And not every affected individual develops them. But when the symptoms occur, they may resolve in a few weeks.
The children below the age of 6 don’t usually show any signs and symptoms after contracting the virus. Whereas, the older adults, teens and adults have mild symptoms. However, the infection results in a severe illness sometimes. The typical symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort especially on the upper right quadrant under your lower ribs (near your liver)
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Low grade fever
- Intense itching
- Clay or light-colored bowel movements
- Sudden nausea and vomiting and even diarrhea in some cases
- Unexplained weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes)
Hepatitis A doesn’t cause chronic or long-term liver damage unlike other types of viral hepatitis. In very rare cases, hepatitis A results in acute or sudden liver failure. This occurs especially in the older adults or those suffering from chronic liver diseases.
The case of acute liver failure may require hospitalization for monitoring and treatment. Some might even require a liver transplant but in rare cases.
After telling the doctor about your signs and symptoms, blood tests may be recommended to check the presence of any viral/bacterial infection and confirm hepatitis virus in the body. A blood sample is taken mostly from the vein in the arm and sent to lab for testing.
Some people show only few symptoms and no signs of jaundice. Without any visible signs of jaundice, it can become difficult to confirm the diagnosis of any hepatitis virus including hepatitis A with the help of physical examination. The illness may remain undiagnosed if the symptoms are few and the complications are rare even if that happens.
Treatment & Management
There’s no specified formal treatment for hepatitis A. The body clears HAV by itself. In most cases, the liver heals within 6 months without any lasting damage.
The treatment usually lays emphasis on staying comfortable, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping the signs and symptoms in control.
To relieve the symptoms, you will need to:
- Take proper rest
Many people who have hepatitis A infection feel tired, sick and lack of energy.
- Manage nausea
Nausea can make eating difficult. Try to have light meals or snacks throughout the day rather than eating complete meals. Have more high-calorie foods to eat enough calories. You may drink fruit juice or milk instead of water. It’s crucial to drinking a lot of fluids in order to prevent dehydration in case the vomiting occurs.
- Abstain from alcohol and use medications with care
It may be difficult to process the medications and alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol as much as possible as it may further the liver damage. Consult your doctor regarding the medications including over-the-counter drugs.
The hepatitis A vaccine is mostly found to be effective in preventing the infection and providing active immunity from the infection in future. It is usually given in two shots. The first booster dose is followed by a second booster shot 6-12 months later. The protection from the vaccine starts 2-4 weeks after the vaccination is done and the effect lasts for more than 20 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a hepatitis A vaccine is advised for these people:
- Children at age 1 or older children who were not administered childhood vaccine
- Lab workers who may contact HAV
- People working or traveling to countries where Hep A is widespread
- People using any type of illegal drugs not only injected ones
- People receiving treatment with clotting-factor concentrates
- People having chronic liver illness
Consider following these preventive measures when you are exposed to the hepatitis virus:
- Avoiding beverages and raw and uncooked meat and fish.
- Washing and drying hands well after using toilet and changing diapers.
- Peeling and washing fruits and vegetables.
- Not getting involved in same-sex intercourse
- Drinking bottled water or boiled water.
- Avoiding sexual activity with Hep A infected individual.
- Do NOT prepare food while you are actively infected as this may easily spread the infection to others.