Hepatitis A, which used to be known as infectious hepatitis, is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a variety of factors such as trauma and alcohol abuse. It is very rare for Hepatitis A to be fatal and most people recover from the virus within a few weeks.
Hepatitis A, or HAV, is spread through the mouth. The blood carries the virus to the liver, and it reproduces in the body, then passing in the stool. It is usually carried on the hands of an infected individual who fails to thoroughly wash his/her hands after using the bathroom. The virus can be transmitted through direct contact or by consuming food and drink that has been prepared in an unsanitary way by an infected person. In addition, Hepatitis A can be contracted by ingesting unclean, sewage-contaminated water.
Although slightly more uncommon, HAV can be transmitted through sexual contact and sharing personal hygiene household products with an infected person.
History of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis has always been known as an inflammation of the liver, but it was not until the 1940’s that the virus was discovered as being the culprit of the inflammation. However, the Hepatitis A strain was not determined until the 1973.
The origin of the word comes from the word “hepar” meaning “liver” and “itis” meaning “inflammation”.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can appear two to seven weeks after exposure, but more likely within one month.
Symptoms for HAV can include: fatigue, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), weight loss, darkening of the urine, and itching.
However, most people are asymptomatic and do not experience any signs of the virus. If symptoms do appear, young children tend to recover in one to three weeks, where adults encounter a more severe form of the infection.
Diagnosing Hepatitis A
HAV can be diagnosed by identifying specific Immunoglobulin M antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are only in the blood of an acute HAV infected individual. They can be detected as early as one to two weeks after transmission, and can also be identified up to 14 weeks.
If the Immunoglobulin G antibody is present in the blood, this indicates that the acute phase of the virus has passed, ensuring the individual’s immunity to the disease.
Treatment for Hepatitis A
Since the virus passes naturally from the body, there is not any medicine or antibiotics prescribed to treat Hepatitis A. In fact, once the virus has exited the body, that individual is immune from the illness for life.
Doctors recommend staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, and enjoying a well-balanced, low fat diet as a means toward recovery.
What Happens if Hepatitis A Goes Untreated?
HAV is not life-threatening or fatal if untreated. The virus passes naturally through the body in a matter of weeks. However, individuals who do not follow a balanced diet, fail to get regular bed rest or maintain hydration will take longer to recover from the illness.
Preventing Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can be prevented by washing your hands thoroughly after each bathroom use. Use plenty of soap and make sure to clean between fingers and under the fingernails.
In addition, food handlers who are infected should abstain from handling any foodstuff while contagious.
Maintaining the practice of a precise and comprehensive hygiene routine will prevent the spread of Hepatitis A.
There is a HAV vaccine that can be administered to children in school or individuals that work in settings where they may come into contact with many people.
Who Is at Risk for Contracting Hepatitis A?
The following includes those people that are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis A:
- People with new sexual partners
- Individuals with 2 or more sexual partners
- Individuals not practicing safe, protected sex
- People engaging in intercourse while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Intravenous (IV) drug users
- Homosexual men
- People who travel to countries where Hepatitis A is predominant
- Individuals in a high people-volume setting like schools or daycares
- People frequenting unsanitary food establishments
- Medical professionals treating infected persons who do not use proper precaution
- Individuals who handle HAV-infected animals
Statistics about Hepatitis A
The following are some important statistics about Hepatitis A:
- 32,000 new cases of Hepatitis A are reported annually
- 1 in 8,500 people in the United States are infected annually
- 32 to 38 percent of people in the United States have a history of the Hepatitis A virus
- The cost relating to HAV and its subsequent treatment costs approximately $200 million annually
- 15 to 20 percent of people can develop arthritis-type problems
- The incidence rate of HAV contraction has declined from 2001 where 92,000 new cases were reported
This Vaccine Information Statement courtesy of:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Immunization Program
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