What is Hepatitis A?
I’m continuing my series on hepatitis by focusing this week on hepatitis A, which is a virus that causes a highly contagious liver infection. This is an acute form of hepatitis, although symptoms can last up to 6 months in some cases. Most people who become infected with hepatitis A will recover completely with no permanent liver damage. There is no chronic form of hepatitis A.
Last week we talked about the symptoms of hepatitis, which are the same for all causes of hepatitis.
How do you get hepatitis A?
The most common way to contract hepatitis A is from contaminated food or water, or from close contact with a person who is infected. The transmission is through a route called fecal-oral transmission. This happens when an uninfected person puts something into their mouth that is accidentally contaminated with the stool of an infected person (it may not look contaminated at all). It does not spread through sneezing or coughing. Casual contact, such as with a coworker in an office or factory, does not spread the hepatitis A virus.
How is hepatitis A spread?
- Drinking contaminated water
- Eating raw shellfish that comes from water polluted with human waste
- Eating food handled by an infected person who doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands after using the toilet
- Being in close contact with an infected person, even if they have no symptoms. People can have hepatitis A for 15-45 days before they actually develop symptoms, and they can spread it during that time period.
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Caring for young children infected with hepatitis A, which often includes changing diapers or otherwise helping with toileting.
What are the risk factors for hepatitis A?
- Traveling to or living in areas where hepatitis A is common
- Caring for a child who is a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
- Being a daycare worker, or a child in daycare
- Living with someone who has hepatitis A
- Having any sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Using illegal drugs, whether injected or not
What is the treatment for hepatitis A?
There is no specific treatment for this infection. Most people with hepatitis A recover within a few months without any treatment other than lots of rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Some people do get sick enough to need hospital care, but this is typically supportive care to help with the liver problems caused by the virus, and not specifically directed at the hepatitis A virus.
What can be done to prevent hepatitis A?
- Practice good personal hygiene, including good hand washing practices.
- Be mindful of high-risk situations. If you are in an area where there is a high risk for hepatitis A, be sure to boil water or drink bottled water, and avoid eating fruits and vegetables that could have been washed in contaminated water.
- Avoid eating raw or steamed shellfish that come from potentially contaminated waters.
- Talk with your doctor about whether you should be vaccinated. The vaccine is very effective but may not be ideal for everyone.
For more information about hepatitis A try these links…
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor
Image: ©Shutterstock / Emily frost