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Hepatitis A is a common, contagious, but short-term form of hepatitis. Like other types of hepatitis, hepatitis A leads to liver infection due to the hepatitis A virus. Inflammation in the liver is caused by this virus, which can affect its functioning. Hepatitis A usually clears on its own without treatment. It also rarely leads to long-term liver damage. World Health Organization mentions there are about 1.4 million hepatitis A cases are reported every year worldwide. Hepatitis A will typically be spread through contaminated food and water. Symptoms range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms typically last for a few weeks, while severe symptoms can last for months. The hepatitis A virus is less dangerous than other hepatitis viruses. Almost everyone exposed to the virus feels better after some time.
You can get hepatitis A if you:
- Eat food handled by someone with hepatitis A who hasn’t washed their hands after using the bathroom
- Drink water contaminated with fecal matter
- Consume raw shellfish from sewage-polluted waters
- Interact with someone who is infected even if they don’t have any symptoms
- Have sex with hepatitis A positive person
Types of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is highly contagious, however, it is not dangerous. Symptoms usually resolve after a few weeks or months. There are two types of hepatitis A.
Acute hepatitis A
This type of hepatitis A causes minor inflammations in the liver. The inflammation clears without treatment after some time.
Chronic hepatitis A
Sometimes, while it’s rare, the infection can lead to more severe liver damage. Hepatitis A usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. If symptoms like jaundice occur, there is already damage happening in the liver. Chronic hepatitis A usually occurs if you have underlying health problems. It can also happen if you have an alcohol disorder. Other times, the infection can lead to a severe illness that lasts for many months.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus causes liver inflammation. This clears after a while without causing any permanent damage. Most people, especially children, don’t show any symptoms. If symptoms appear, they may include;
- Lower abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale-colored stool
- Joint pain
- Fever and fatigue
These symptoms usually go away after two months or so. They may, however, come back in six months. Even when you feel healthy, you can still spread the virus. Most of the time, the hepatitis A virus can spread two weeks before symptoms even appear or a week after.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis A
A medical professional will likely ask you questions about your medical and personal history. They may also ask you questions about your symptoms. They will then test for the level of enzymes in the liver before ordering blood tests. The blood tests test for:
Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies: The body produces antibodies to help fight the infection upon exposure to the virus. Antibodies usually stay in the body for three to six months. This is even after the symptoms have cleared. Therefore, a positive result will mean that you have already had prior exposure to the virus or infection.
Immunoglobulin G antibodies (IgG): These kinds of antibodies show up in a test if you’ve had the virus for a long time. You may have IgG antibodies all your life. They help protect the body against hepatitis A. Once you get infected, you can’t get infected again. This is because you develop antibodies that prevent more infections.
How to Treat Hepatitis A
No medication can cure hepatitis A once you get exposed to the virus. The doctor can only treat the symptoms until the virus clears on its own. Treatment is only necessary if the virus has caused significant damage to the liver. As you continue to heal, here are a few measures you can take:
Get plenty of rest: If you have hepatitis A, you may experience fatigue. Your energy levels will also decline. Rest is beneficial in recovery!
Try and keep food down: Nausea and vomiting are common with hepatitis A. They can make it difficult to eat. To avoid vomiting anything you eat, opt for smaller meals and snacks. To ensure that you get plenty of nutrients, eat foods with lots of calories. Also, drink milk and juice rather than water. Taking fluids will also help keep your body hydrated if you are vomiting.
Stay away from alcohol: Hepatitis A causes inflammation in the liver. Alcohol and medications tend to strain an already stressed liver. Alcohol can also lead to more damage. Medications you are taking should always be discussed with your doctor, including over-the-counter pills. Why? Some medications can worsen your symptoms.
Vaccination: This is more of a preventive measure than treatment. Thanks to the availability of the hepatitis A vaccine, it has become easier to tackle hepatitis A. The vaccine is effective for up to 20 years in adults and 15 to 20 years in children. You should get vaccinated if you travel to countries with poor sanitation. Families adopting kids from countries where hepatitis A is common should also get vaccinated.
There are a variety of people who are in danger of contracting the disease:
- Men who have sexual intercourse with other men
- Anybody who has a history of blood clots
- Children between 2 years and 18 who have not had the jab
- Teenagers aged 13 years and above and young adults above the ages of 23
- Homeless people
- Anybody who uses recreational drugs
- Those with chronic liver disease
- Those who have been in any sort of contact with an infected person
How to Live With and Manage Hepatitis A
Managing hepatitis A involves finding ways of avoiding infections. These include:
- Washing your hands thoroughly with clean water and soap. This is especially before eating and after using the bathroom
- If you leave your country, drink bottled water
- Dine at clean restaurants
- Avoid eating raw vegetables and fruits in areas with poor sanitation
- If you already have the virus, avoid consuming alcohol
- Get plenty of rest and eat foods rich in carbohydrates to restore lost energy
- What should you do after exposure to the hepatitis A virus? See a doctor immediately if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus. Do this within two weeks of exposure.
- Is it possible to prevent infection after getting exposed to the virus? A dose of the hepatitis A vaccine can help prevent infection. This is as long as it’s administered within two weeks after exposure.
- Can I have multiple hepatitis A infections? No. If you get infected and recover, the body develops antibodies that protect you all your life.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!