What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a type of liver infection caused by a virus termed hepatitis A (HAV). For clarity, the disease will be termed hepatitis A while the viral cause will be termed HAV. Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not cause chronic disease in contrast to some other viral causes of hepatitis. Antibodies produced during infection give life-long protection against the disease; there is an effective vaccine against HAV. Rarely, hepatitis may lead to liver failure and death.
Is hepatitis A contagious?
Hepatitis A is very contagious. People can be contagious even before symptoms appear. However, the numbers of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis A has been decreasing since the vaccine against HAV was introduced in 1995. The vaccine is effective in adults and children.
How will I know if I have hepatitis A?
Symptoms, if they occur, start about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to HAV. About 80% of adults have symptoms (see below) while children seldom show symptoms. Symptoms of hepatitis A may include the following:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Jaundice (yellowish color to skin and/or eyes
- Joint pain
Symptoms develop over a few days and in mild infections, last about 4 to 6 weeks with more severe infections lasting about 6 months. Your physician can diagnose hepatitis A by your history, physical exam, and blood tests.
How is hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A spreads person to person, and by indirect spread. Fecal - oral, sexual contact, and contaminated food or water can be sources of HAV that causes the disease. Common sources that have HAV contamination are
- ice, and
- untreated water.
How will I know if I am cured of hepatitis A?
In general, once symptoms of hepatitis A begin to abate, individuals are considered to be non-contagious; resolution of the infection results in a cure and life-long immunity to the disease. Appropriate vaccination (usually 2 shots 6 months apart), can also give long-term immunity to the disease.
When should I contact a doctor about hepatitis A?
If you have recently been exposed to a source of HAV and are unsure if you are vaccinated, contact your health-care professional, as it is possible to get vaccine or even immunoglobulin treatment to prevent the disease and/or its symptoms.
If you have the disease, contact your health-care professional for symptomatic treatment methods (for example, diet changes, avoiding alcohol, certain drugs) to help prevent HAV spread to family and friends. Some individuals have more severe symptoms and may need to be hospitalized.