Hepatitis is the swelling of the liver, and this condition can be mostly curable but certain cases lead to fibrosis, liver cancer or complete liver failure. Hepatitis viruses are one of the leading sources of hepatitis, but other infections and substances like alcohol and drugs can also cause hepatitis.
Hepatitis viruses are categorized as A, B, C, D and E, and they are of great concern since some can be fatal and some are highly contagious and lead to a widespread epidemic. Hepatitis A and E are caused by the consumption of contaminated food and water and by unhealthy living habits. Hepatitis B, C and D are caused by contact with body fluids of the infected person. The hepatitis B and C viruses can have a lifelong impact on the health of the infected person.
Understanding the hepatitis A virus
Hepatitis A is an acute liver disease which is primarily caused by the hepatitis A virus. But this infection is not always as dangerous as the hepatitis B and C viruses because it does not cause incurable liver disease. This infection will cause inflammation of the liver and may not show any early symptoms. Minor cases of hepatitis A don't require any medication and the infected person will usually recover completely with no long-lasting liver damage.
This virus occurs suddenly and is highly contagious from one person to another. It reoccurs at regular intervals in certain countries or regions like an epidemic, and has a massive impact on the economic and social conditions. It is found more in underdeveloped and developing countries due to unhygienic living conditions.
How can one be infected with hepatitis A?
The transmission of this virus takes place because of a lack of hygiene in living conditions or unsafe sex. Some ways the hepatitis A virus can be contracted are:
- When one person consumes food or water which has been contaminated by the stool of an infected person
- Eating shellfish from infected water
- Fruits, vegetable, ice and water are common carriers of this virus
- Direct contact with blood or feces of an infected person
- Physical contact with an infected person
Symptoms of hepatitis A virus
Not all get the symptoms of this virus, and it normally takes around 14 to 28 days to start showing indications. The signs are more evident in adults than in children, and the severity of this disease is also more among elder children and adults. Some of the signs of this disease are:
- Yellow Skin or eyes
- Dark Urine
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in abdomen
- Weight Loss
People with this virus have it in their blood, and it is gradually released through the feces. Along with being present in the blood, the virus is also carried in the stool of an infected person. Most of people who contract hepatitis A will not have the virus present in their stool for more than 21 days after becoming ill.
Who gets infected with hepatitis A?
This virus affects younger children more than adults. However, people who are more likely to be infected by this virus:
- Live in unhygienic conditions
- Use unsafe water to cook and drink
- Eat food or drink water from small and unhealthy outlets
- Inject recreational drugs
- Reside with those who are already infected with this virus
- Attend school or are teachers
- Travel to countries where this virus prevails
- Have intercourse with an infected person
- Are not vaccinated
Ways to diagnose hepatitis A virus
This virus can be diagnosed through a blood test. The blood test will indicate the presence of hepatitis A and specific antibodies, and it will tell you if your liver is swollen. The IgM antibody can be detected only seven to 14 days after the infection has affected the liver. The IgM antibody is present only in cases of severe viral infection and will last for more than three months in the blood. This antibody is also found in the blood of a person who has been vaccinated for this virus.
Methods for treating hepatitis A virus
There is no precise treatment for hepatitis A since the body will automatically get rid of this virus. However, the recovery of the body from all the symptoms of this virus may take weeks and sometimes months. But one must consult the doctor who will constantly check the liver condition. It is suggested that people infected with hepatitis A avoid taking too many medications. There will not be a need for hospitalization unless the infection has become severe and no amount of medication is showing improvement on the patient and his or her liver condition. Hepatitis A is not usually fatal, but in certain cases it leads to complete liver failure and this typically occurs in the elderly or those with serious liver infections.
Adequate rest is required for the body to recover completely from the weakness caused by this virus. The only medication that is provided is to replenish the required fluids in the body that were lost or reduced drastically due to constant vomiting or diarrhea. Oily food, alcohol and drugs should also be avoided when the infection is at a severe stage. Any food that affects the liver should be avoided until the infection reduces.
Acetaminophen, paracetamol and medicines that prevent nausea should not be given to a patient with hepatitis A.
Prevention of hepatitis A
Vaccinations are available to protect you from hepatitis A. This vaccine was introduced in the year 1992, and it is highly recommended in countries and regions where this virus is widespread. In certain countries, this vaccine is a part of the normal vaccination routine for children one to two years old. These vaccines are effective only four weeks from the first dose. The booster shots of the vaccines are taken in six months to a years’ time.
While a two-dose vaccine of inactivated hepatitis A is commonly used in many countries, some countries prefer a single-dose inactivated hepatitis A vaccine instead.
Depending on the country, the past effects of the virus, and the proportion of people affected with this virus, a decision should be made on whether or not this vaccine should be included in the normal vaccine schedule of children. The following people should also get the vaccination:
- Those who consume/inject drugs for pleasure
- People who travel to countries where the virus is widespread
- Men who have sexual intercourse with other men
- Those with some other serious liver disease
- Laboratory employees who may come in contact with this virus
Additionally, if you come in contact with an infected person you can take a drug called immune globulin within 14 days.
Apart from vaccination, living in hygienic conditions and consuming safe food and water will help prevent this disease. The practices of washing hands before and after eating food and using the restroom are also ideal to avoid such infections.
Government and local bodies can also undertake the following measures to create awareness and reduce the spreading of this contagious virus:
- Sufficient supply of safe drinking water
- Cleanliness of the local surroundings with proper sewage disposal systems
- Educate people of the symptoms, effects of the virus and how it can be prevented
- Make the vaccines available easily, either free or at a nominal cost in areas where this infection occurs often