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What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease caused by Hepatitis A virus (HAV). The disease’s transmission, most commonly, occurs through the fecal oral route. The major carriers of the disease are contaminated food and water. However, the disease may also spread through contact from a person already infected by the virus, although he might not be having any special symptoms.
The chances of getting the virus are high in developing countries. In industrialized nations, however, the incidence rate of the disease is low but the disease can transmit from young adults who might have acquired the disease while on a trip to the developing nations.
Hepatitis A is not a fatal condition like hepatitis B and C. The mild cases of the disease get away automatically within a few weeks and require no treatment. Hepatitis A usually doesn’t progress to a chronic stage and vaccination is available to prevent the disease.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
The most common symptoms of hepatitis A include the following;
• Fatigue or excessive tiredness
• Nausea and vomiting tendencies
• Pain in the right portion of belly, in the abdomen ( The portion under right lower ribs)
• Low-grade fever and mild symptoms of flu
• Dark urine
• Muscle cramps or pain
• Loss of appetite and general queasiness.
However, in many cases of hepatitis A, the patient develops no symptoms. Even after the infection, it may take about a month, the incubation period, to get the symptoms distinctly. Young children often show the mild symptoms but older people may show some of the severe symptoms of the disease when affected.
Some people also suffer from jaundice with hepatitis A and the skins and whites of the eyes may turn yellowish. However, this happens to a very rare fraction of hepatitis A affected patients.
Hepatitis A may relapse within a period of six to nine months, although this is very rare.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can infect all, the children, males and females. The surest way to detect hepatitis is doing a blood test to measure the amounts of bilirubin and enzyme levels.
Bilirubin test: Bilirubin is a residue that is obtained from the worn out red blood cells. This matter is excreted with urine after the liver metabolizes it. Due to hepatitis A, the function of metabolism gets upset. As a result the level of bilirubin in the blood increases. Thus, a higher than normal level of bilirubin can signify hepatitis A.
Enzyme test: When the liver gets damaged, it releases an enzyme known as aminotransferases. By detecting the presence of this enzyme, doctors can verify whether the liver is functioning properly or not. If higher amounts of the enzyme are detected doctors can understand a defect in the metabolism of liver and diagnose hepatitis A by further tests.
However, it should be noted that the above mentioned two tests cannot exactly pinpoint the occurrence of hepatitis A. To detect the disease another blood test, known as radioimmunoassay test is performed. This test detects the antibodies in the immune system that take place as a reaction to the presence of antigens. However, antibodies may appear after weeks or even months after the viral attack in the body. Therefore this test may give a false result if done too early.
Causes of Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of an already affected person. If the food or drinking water gets contaminated and taken by the mouth, the virus can spread. This usually happens when a person fails to wash his/her hands properly after going to the toilet. The disease spreads predominantly through fecal-oral route. However, the virus can also spread through contaminated water, raw shellfish exposed to the condition where the virus are found and from an already infected person, although he/she shows no symptoms.
You can acquire the HAV virus if;
• Eat food prepared or touched by someone who does not wash his or her hands well after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
• Eat raw or undercooked shellfish that was harvested from waters contaminated with raw sewage where the virus may be present.
• Have sex with a person affected by HAV.
• From contaminated foods or exposure to the virus. This can happen if you don’t clean your hands properly after changing a diaper.
• Through transfusion of blood with an affected person.
Types of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is one of the several types of hepatitis found. They are usually categorized as hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, F and G. However, hepatitis F has not been fully confirmed yet.
Treatment of Hepatitis A
There is no specific medication or treatment of hepatitis A. Most of the treatment options refer to lifestyle or dietary habit changes. Moreover, apart from nutrition, the focus is on saving the liver from any permanent damage. Moreover, the patients may find changing dietary habits fruitful in staying healthier than opting for any other option.
In many cases, small and frequent meals are advised instead of three large meals. This may provide relief from feelings of nausea. It may also be a good option during the disease, as you feel less inclined towards foods. Soft and easily digestible foods, such as soup or broth, yogurt and toast may serve the condition the best. In case you find the morning hours more helpful in having a diet, choose the foods well in advance. Finding foods in the early hours the most appealing is a common phenomenon of having hepatitis A.
It may be essential to change any existing prescription or OTC medicine after diagnosis of hepatitis A. Talk to your doctor as soon as you are diagnosed with the disease. Also obey the advises given by the doctor to change the medication you are having. You may also stop drinking alcohol while having hepatitis A as it reacts negatively on the liver. Combining alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be exceedingly harmful for the liver, even after you have recovered from the disease.
In case of fulminant hepatitis, the patient may need hospitalization for special care. This may include monitoring and administering adequate supply of fluids and nutrition. The patient may also need special care in case of bleeding. In the most severe cases, the patient may need to have a liver transplant after the complete damage of the organ.
Living with Hepatitis A
Living with hepatitis A requires taking active steps to prevent spreading the disease further. Take ample care of hygiene and do not forget to obey the advice of the doctor regarding lifestyle changes or changing medications. As the disease spreads mainly through fecal-oral route do take care not to contaminate foods and water with HAV. An intelligent step taken in time can save many people from hepatitis A.
Prevention of Hepatitis A
Taking the hepatitis A vaccine in time is the most important step for preventing hepatitis A. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines – Havrix and Vaqta . These may be administered to any person over 2 years of age. It is also important to avoid acquiring the hepatitis A virus while going for international travel. Practicing good hygiene is also an important point to follow to avoid infection of HAV.
Avoiding sexual activities to stop acquiring or spreading the virus is also an important measure for preventing hepatitis A. Moreover don’t forget to wash your hand properly after using a toilet. Keep the hygiene in mind while using a public toilet, too. Use clean utensils for cooking food and do not prepare food for other while you are infected.