Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
As you probably already know, the liver is one of the most important organs of your body. It processes nutrients, filters blood, and fights off infections. But imagine what would happen if the liver got damaged? Alcohol abuse, toxins, and certain medications are already a risk for liver health. But, another major risk for your liver health is Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that has the potential to damage your liver, and therefore, having knowledge about Hepatitis A will go a long way. In this article, we will discuss all about it – from hepatitis symptoms and causes to hepatitis prevention and treatment. So, keep reading!
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A, also known as hep A, is a type of contagious liver infection which is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It is one of the several types of hepatitis virus which infects liver cells, causes inflammation, and impairs liver functions. Although this particular type of hepatitis infection is not very severe and almost everyone infected recovers from it. Still, there have been cases around the world when the infected individual developed complications. Therefore, you should not be careless about your health if you ever contract the Hepatitis A virus.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
The incubation period of Hepatitis A is usually 14-28 days. This means that if you get infected, Hepatitis A symptoms will typically begin to appear after this time period. Usually, infected children below the age of 6 don’t develop any signs of Hepatitis A. Whereas, adults can have mild to severe symptoms. These can be:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Joint pain
- Upset stomach
- Unexplained weight loss
[Also read – 10 early signs of liver damage]
What are the causes and risk factors of Hepatitis A?
You are most likely to catch the Hepatitis A virus when you ingest food or water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Once it enters the body, it spreads through the bloodstream to the liver causing inflammation and swelling. Apart from that, since the virus is highly contagious, you can easily get infected if you get in close contact with someone who already has it. Besides, the risk of getting Hepatitis A from children is high as they don’t usually develop any symptoms.
You are at the risk of Hepatitis A if you –
- eat food handled by an infected person who hasn’t thoroughly washed his or her hands after using the toilet.
- drink water that is contaminated by the virus.
- eat raw or undercooked shellfish from polluted waters.
- get in close contact with someone who is infected but may not show any symptoms of hepatitis.
- have sexual intercourse with an infected person.
- travel to areas where Hepatitis A is common
- live with an infected person.
- are HIV positive.
- have a clotting-factor disorder.
- use any illegal drugs.
What are the complications of Hepatitis A?
Unlike other types of hepatitis infections, Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver damage. Almost everyone infected recovers fully. However, in some rare cases, it can lead to acute liver failure. Most of the time this complication is seen in older adults and people who already have some chronic condition. Still, full recovery is possible. Only in very few cases, a liver transplant is needed. Besides, a Hepatitis A relapse can also happen but that is also rare and most people recover fully.
[Also read – Things that cause liver damage]
How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?
For the diagnosis of Hepatitis A, your doctor will first ask you about the symptoms you have and check for high levels of liver enzymes in your blood. And after that, a Hepatitis A test would be done to confirm the diagnosis. There are two types of hepatitis tests available. They are:
- IgM (immunoglobulin M) antibodies – IgM antibodies are the first antibodies your body makes when it fights a new infection. They stay in your blood for about 3 to 6 months.
- IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies – IgG antibodies take time to develop. The presence of these antibodies means that you may have got infected in the past. The body then stores these antibodies to prevent future infection. These antibodies could also be present in you if you have got vaccinated against Hepatitis A.
What is the treatment of Hepatitis A?
There’s no Hepatitis A treatment to get rid of the virus once you get it. But the symptoms can be treated and tests can be performed to see how well the liver is functioning to make sure that the body is healing the way it should.
You can take the following steps to ensure quick recovery:
- Take proper rest.
- Avoid eating heavy meals but make sure you’re getting enough nutrients.
- Avoid alcohol as that can damage your liver even more.
- Discuss over-the-counter medications with your doctor, in case you take any.
[Also read – How can alcohol damage your liver]
How to prevent Hepatitis A?
Getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A is the best way to prevent it. Hepatitis A vaccine is given in a series of two injections, the first one is followed by a booster shot.
Vaccination is especially recommended for the following people:
- Those who are in direct contact with those who have Hepatitis A.
- All children at the age of 1 or older who did not receive it earlier.
- Infants of 6 to 11 months of age traveling internationally.
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where Hepatitis A is common.
- Those who are traveling to places where Hepatitis A is common.
- Men engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with men.
- Those with the clotting-factor disorder.
- Those with chronic liver diseases.
Other precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of contracting Hepatitis A are:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after – using the toilet, handling used condoms, getting in contact with nappies, and before handling and eating food.
- Clean bathrooms and toilets often.
- Boil water before drinking if it is coming from an untreated source
- Take extreme precautions if you are traveling to places where Hepatitis A is common.
- Avoid eating unpackaged and undercooked food and drinks from street vendors.
- Avoid shellfish and unpasteurized dairy products.
If at any time you think that you are at risk of Hepatitis A or you may be exposed to it, then it’s never too late to consult with a doctor and get a hepatitis test done to confirm your suspicions.
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