Health & Fitness

Decoding Hepatitis A: The What, The How & What To Do To Manage It

Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava

Understanding hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral infection that commonly causes liver inflammation and in rare cases, it may lead to acute liver failure by giving rise to fulminant hepatitis. The infection may occur when you come in contact with even a microscopic amount of the hepatitis A virus (HAV) through contaminated water, food, or close contact with an infected person.

Hepatitis A is the most common hepatitis type in India in the form of it being endemic. Almost every case of the Hep A virus has a full recovery rate and the affected person develops a lifelong immunity against it. You should also know that unlike Hep B and Hep C, hepatitis A has no chronic effect on your liver, and with correct preventive measures, you can easily manage and reverse the infection.

Read the complete article to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and management of the hepatitis A infection so that if you or anyone you know is affected by the virus, you can take or suggest the measures to implement for managing it.

Causes of hepatitis A

The Hep A virus most commonly spreads through contaminated water or food, but direct contact or unprotected sex with the infected person also increases the chances of infection. You can be at a high risk of contracting the Hep A virus because of the following reasons:

  • If your area has an untreated sewage system that can mix the leaking fluids in the domestic water supply pipes
  • It can spread in your family if an infected person cooks 
  • Not received hepatitis A vaccine
  • Poor personal sanitation like eating with unwashed hands or not maintaining a good oral hygiene 
  • Traveling to any area with a contaminated water source
  • Oral/anal sex and sex between men
  • Exchange of bodily fluids like saliva, semen, vaginal fluids, mucus, or urine with an infected person
  • Drinking water from water supplies that are installed in contaminated areas

Symptoms of hepatitis A

The hepatitis A symptoms usually take two to four weeks to appear. Identifying the symptoms in children below the age of six can be tricky as they do not show any signs, whereas teens, adults, and older people may display some of  the following symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms which include cough or fever
  • Extreme weakness and tiredness
  • Jaundice
  • Stomach ache (specifically in the upper right side)
  • Excretion of light-colored poop
  • Dark-colored pee
  • Not willing to eat and improper diet
  • Unintentional weight loss

Note: Children below the age of six do not manifest any symptoms, they must receive the vaccine at the age of one.

Vaccination for hepatitis A

Both children and adults should receive vaccination for hepatitis A to prevent their liver from complications. The hepatitis A vaccines are of two types. The first type of the Hep A vaccine is administered in two doses at an interval of six months, and both doses are mandatory to safeguard you from liver issues arising due to the hepatitis A virus in the long run. The second type is a compound of vaccines to shield you from hepatitis A virus and hepatitis B virus. The effects of the hepatitis A vaccine may last for at least 20 years or it may be lifelong and is successful in approximately 95% of cases.

Diagnosis of hepatitis A

The symptoms of hepatitis A are similar to that of other hepatitis infections, and distinguishing the cause can be complicated. To detect HAV in your blood, diagnoses are available that help in ascertaining whether you are infected with the hepatitis A virus or not. 

  • HAV-specific immunoglobulin G (IgM): It is a blood test that detects the initial antibody produced by your system when it was exposed to the virus and can remain in your system for up to 6 months. 
  • HAV IgG Antibody Test: It is a blood test that indicates that you’ve had the Hep A infection before or were vaccinated against the HAV.

Prevention and management of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a short-term viral infection that goes away on its own. But if the water in your area is contaminated or if you are traveling to a contaminated area, the following preventive measures can help you in managing the condition effectively:

  • Consult the local government authorities to clean and disinfect the water supply of your area
  • Get hepatitis A vaccine when traveling to a country where the infection is common
  • Implement personal hygiene habits like washing hands before you eat any meal or after using the bathroom, and inform others to do the same
  • Do not get in direct physical contact with an HAV infected person
  • If infected, get vaccinated at the earliest
  • Carry your own water if traveling to any area where water and food contamination is common

Final thoughts

Although hepatitis A is a curable liver infection, however ignoring the symptoms can develop fulminant hepatitis and cause acute liver failure. The infection can be managed very easily by undergoing an early diagnosis and implementing preventive measures when you experience the symptoms. 

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