Hepatitis A

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis A is a potentially serious disease that is caused by a virus which attacks the liver and results in its inflammation. The virus can be contracted by just about anyone. The disease is spread primarily through contaminated food, such as raw or undercooked seafood and shellfish, and contaminated water. Hepatitis A can also be transmitted by eating food prepared by someone infected with the virus and who did not wash his/her hands properly after a bowel movement.

What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A?

A majority of patients show flu-like symptoms including weakness, headache and fever. Other symptoms may include stomach cramps, diarrohea and jaundice, which is yellow discolouration of the skin or whites of the eyes. These symptoms can last for several weeks in which case monitoring by hospitalization may be necessary.

Hepatitis A will eventually run its course and once you’ve had the virus and your body has fought it off, you are permanently immune to it. There are rarely any complications with Hepatitis A. Unlike Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, there are no carriers and no long-term consequences of having had Hepatitis A such as Chronic Hepatitis or Cirrhosis. However, for people with Chronic Liver Disease such as Hepatitis C, infection with another virus such as Hepatitis A can be a serious health risk. People with Hepatitis C are hence encouraged to prevent infection by being vaccinated against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, as are other patients with Chronic Liver Diseases.

Adults are more likely to develop severe symptoms as a result of Hepatitis A, while young children may get away with hardly any symptoms at all or very mild symptoms. Instances of death are quite rare but may occur in up to three percent of older people, usually with Acute Liver Failure.

What causes Hepatitis A?

You can get Hepatitis A from

  • Eating food prepared by someone with Hepatitis A who did not wash their hands after using the bathroom.
  • Having anal/oral sex with a person who has Hepatitis A.
  • Not washing your hands after changing a diaper.
  • Drinking contaminated water.
  • Eating raw or undercooked shellfish collected from water that has been contaminated by sewage.
  • Blood transfusions, although this is extremely rare.

How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?

Blood tests are used to detect the presence of Hepatitis A in your body. A sample of blood is taken, usually from a vein in your arm, and sent to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor will also discuss your signs and symptoms as part of making a diagnosis.

What does a positive test result mean?

A positive test result indicates that the patient has either had a past infection or is currently infected. The type of antibody detected in the test will show whether the infection is current or has been cleared. A patient who has already had the infection and fought it off is naturally immune to Hepatitis A.

What does a negative test result mean?

A negative test result means the patient is not infected with Hepatitis A. If the patient is believed to be at high or ongoing risk of infection, a doctor may advise immunization.

How is Hepatitis A treated?

No specific treatment is available for Hepatitis A. It usually gets better in a few weeks without any treatment. Like most viral infections, the body will clear the Hepatitis A virus on its own.

How can I avoid getting Hepatitis A?

You can avoid getting Hepatitis A by getting the Hepatitis A vaccine. Recommended at any time, the vaccine easily and effectively protects you from Hepatitis A. If you are travelling to countries where Hepatitis A is common, you will gain protection from the vaccine which will also prevent you from being a potential domestic source of the virus.

The Hepatitis A vaccine is given through two shots. The second shot is given 6 to 12 months after the first shot. Both shots are needed, to be fully protected from the virus for up to 10 years.

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