Hepatitis A is an infectious disease of the liver that can cause severe complications, including acute liver failure and death, in extreme cases. It is one of five known hepatitis viruses, and around 1.4 million cases are diagnosed in the world each year. Symptoms of hepatitis A usually appear two to six weeks after the disease has been contracted. Here are eight important facts about hepatitis A everybody should know.
Symptoms Of Hepatitis A
Many of the early symptoms of hepatitis A are easily mistaken for the symptoms of influenza or food poisoning. Common symptoms include bile in the urine, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, jaundice, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort. On average, adults begin experiencing these symptoms approximately twenty-eight days after being infected with the disease. Only a small percentage of adults do not show any signs at all. In comparison, ninety percent of children who have hepatitis A do not show symptoms of the disease, making it easy for children who seem healthy to transmit the virus to other individuals. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of those infected with hepatitis A experience a recurrence of symptoms for six months after the initial infection. These symptoms also contribute to the spread of the disease.
How Hepatitis A Is Spread
There are several ways in which hepatitis A can be spread from one person to another. Close contact with an infected individual, such as sexual intercourse or engaging in other intimate activities increases the risk of contracting the disease considerably. Infections are also common in regions of the world with high poverty rates and poor hygiene. As a result, many children in developing countries contract the disease early on in life. In addition, overcrowding is a significant factor in the spread of the disease; overpopulated areas report higher annual rates of infection than less populated areas do. Shellfish that has not been cooked properly or that has come from polluted water is another common catalyst for the disease. Humans are the only natural reservoirs or long-term hosts of the hepatitis A virus; it is not carried or spread by any other animal.
Risk Factors For Contracting Hepatitis A
Those who live in developing countries or areas with poor sanitation and hygiene are at the highest risk of contracting hepatitis A. Children in these areas are also highly likely to contract and spread the disease. Developing countries have high rates of hepatitis A than do developed regions, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and Western Europe. Many children in the United States are vaccinated at one or two years of age, which helps to curb the spread of the disease. In developed regions, those who are most likely to contract the disease commonly travel to countries with high rates of hepatitis A, homosexual men, intravenous drug users who share needles, children in childcare, and childcare providers.
How Hepatitis A Is Diagnosed
A simple blood test from a doctor can determine if a patient is infected with hepatitis A as the virus is present in the blood and feces for up to two weeks before clinical illness or symptoms develop. Doctors diagnose the disease by looking for the presence of hepatitis A antibodies in the blood, which are absent in healthy individuals. This type of antibody is detectable one to two weeks after infection and remains present in the bloodstream for up to fourteen weeks. During the acute stage of the disease, there is also a much higher level of a liver enzyme, which is produced because of liver damage, in the bloodstream. Tests for immunity to hepatitis A involve measuring antibody and enzyme levels in the blood.
Long-Term Effects Of The Disease
Hepatitis A typically does not cause any significant long-term complications that interfere with quality of life. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that ten to fifteen percent of individuals who have had hepatitis A have symptoms for up to a year and may experience a recurrence over a period of six to nine months. In severe cases, hepatitis A may lead to liver failure. The most efficient way to address liver failure is to perform a liver transplant, which is a complicated and expensive medical procedure. Around eleven thousand individuals who contract the disease die each year but many of these deaths are due to inadequate prevention methods, missed vaccinations, a lack of treatment, or living conditions that make these options impossible.
Treatment For Hepatitis A
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, and recovery from the disease can take up to several weeks or months. Methods that facilitate recovery include maintaining a comfortable position, replacing low fluid levels, and ensuring adequate nutritional balance. Children who contract hepatitis A usually experience a milder form of the virus whereas adults tend to suffer more severely. Receiving a shot of immunoglobulin, which contains antibodies that destroy hepatitis A, can reduce the severity of the disease in both adults and children. This medication is not a long-term treatment option and does not prevent the virus from spreading.
Hepatitis A Vaccine
The vaccine for hepatitis A is given via injection and is administered in two separate doses, given six to twelve months apart. In most individuals, the vaccine protects from the virus for at least twenty years. Cases of hepatitis A have dropped dramatically in countries that have formal vaccination programs, such as Australia, Belarus, China, Russia, Canada and the United States. Experts recommend the vaccine for those at an unusually high risk of contracting the virus, such as homosexual men, intravenous drug users, those with repeated blood clots, and anyone with a long-term liver disease. Those travelling to regions of the world with high rates of hepatitis A infection are also encouraged to get the vaccine.
How To Prevent Hepatitis A
In countries where it is available, being vaccinated for hepatitis A is the best defense against the disease. In areas in which the vaccine is not available, poor hygiene is a common cause of the virus. Thus, washing hands routinely, bathing regularly, and being aware of sanitation when changing soiled diapers are all critical. Since the disease can also be contracted from contaminated or undercooked food, it is essential to use hygienic practices in kitchens and other food preparation areas. This includes washing hands before handling food and maintaining a clean work environment.