Hepatitis A is a contagious, viral infection that leads to acute inflammatory liver disease. Hepatitis A has become very uncommon in the United States and after the advent of hepatitis A vaccine; its occurrence has declined to about 95%. However, it is very common in the developing countries including parts of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central and South America. It is more common in young children and adults over the age of 50.
How Is Hepatitis A Virus Transmitted?
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 not spread by sneezing, coughing, hugging and being near an infected person. It is also not transmitted by a lactating mother to her child.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A may present with no symptoms in young children and in some, it may present 2-6 weeks after coming in contact with the virus. The symptoms when present usually last few weeks to 2 months, but in some individuals they may last up to 6 months. The symptoms when present may look like flu symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle soreness, abdominal discomfort and pain, fever, diarrhea, gray or clay colored stools and decreased appetite. Symptoms that are more specific of liver inflammation include dark yellow urine, and jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).
What Is The Diagnosis And Treatment For Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is diagnosed based on the symptoms and blood test. A blood test usually confirms hepatitis A with the detection of hepatitis A antibodies against the 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 supportive treatment to the patient in the form of rest, hydration, healthy diet and abstinence 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.
How To Prevent Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A can be prevented by staying away from contaminated food and water, maintaining good hygiene by washing hands after using toilet and before eating, using bottled water and washing fruits and vegetables when in a developing country. A person can also avoid getting hepatitis A by receiving hepatitis A vaccine.
How Long Is a Person With Hepatitis A Contagious To Others?
Contagiousness refers to the property of Hepatitis A virus to spread from one infected person to another non-infected person. Since hepatitis A is a very contagious disease and can be contagious even before the appearance of symptoms. A person with hepatitis A is most likely contagious to others during the two weeks before the infected person develops symptoms such as yellowing of eyes and skin, dark colored urine, abdominal pain, fever etc. The chances of spreading the infection becomes smaller with time, but can still be present one week or longer after the development of symptoms. There is a higher chance in infants being contagious for a longer time.
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