Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is highly contagious and leads to acute inflammation of liver. It is very common in the developing countries including parts of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central and South America. Hepatitis A has become very uncommon in the United States and after the advent of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995; its occurrence has declined to about 95%.
Transmission of Hepatitis A Virus
Generally, hepatitis A virus is transmitted through contamination of food and water with the fecal matter of an infected person. It can also be spread by foods prepared by an infected person. People who are at a higher risk of developing hepatitis A include individuals living with someone who has active hepatitis A, sharing of contaminated needles, having unprotected sex with an infected person, homosexual men, traveling to developing countries where hepatitis A is very common and children in child care and their teachers. It is mostly seen in children and adults over the age of 50 are at a greater risk of developing it.
It is not spread by sneezing, coughing, hugging and being near an infected person. It is also not transmitted by a lactating mother to her child.
How Do You Know You Have Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A can go undiagnosed in some of the patients, mostly in young children under the age of 6 years, as it does not present with any symptoms in them. However, symptoms are likely to be present in older children and adults over the age of 50 years. Usually, hepatitis A infection presents with symptoms of the infection 2-6 weeks after coming in contact with the virus. Some hepatitis A patients will never know they have hepatitis A. Patients can easily get confused with the symptoms of hepatitis A and flu like symptoms, as mostly patients will present symptoms of weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle soreness, abdominal discomfort and pain, fever, diarrhea and decreased appetite. These patients can differentiate the symptoms of flu with hepatitis A, as in addition to these symptoms the patient will also have symptoms that are more specific to liver inflammation, which include gray or clay colored stools, dark yellow urine and jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes). Some patients might have symptoms lasting for as long as 6 months. The patient should visit a doctor when one notices the symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can be diagnosed based on the symptoms he presents with. Later it is confirmed with a blood test, which might show hepatitis A antibodies against the virus. The antibodies that are usually found in acute hepatitis A infection will be IgM class of antibodies (IgM anti-HAV). A person can also know whether he/she had been exposed to hepatitis A earlier or not through a blood test, in which case one will be positive for total hepatitis A antibody (anti-HAV). A person should always talk to the doctor if they suspect that they have been exposed to hepatitis A virus.
Generally, hepatitis A gets better in a few weeks without any treatment. However, in some the symptoms can last as long as 6 months. The doctor may give palliative treatment to the patient that includes rest, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet and abstaining from alcohol until and unless one has recovered completely. Doctor may also give medications to relieve symptoms of hepatitis A. There are no long-term effects of hepatitis A, but there are chances of recurrence of the infection within 6 to 9 months in 10 to 15% of cases, according to CDC. Liver failure is considered a very rare complication of the disease.
If the symptoms persist for long, greater than 6 months then one should visit a doctor. The doctor will usually get liver function test done to see optimal functioning of liver and to see whether it is healing or not.
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