Hepatitis A is a liver disease that spreads as a contagious virus. Some people only experience a mild version with possibly no symptoms at all, while others find it life-threatening.
The virus spreads mostly through direct contact, but exposure to water or food prepared by a sick individual can also spread the disease if there was a lapse in food preparation hygiene. In fact, most modern outbreaks are linked to lapses in food safety rather than from direct human contact.
The disease can also be contracted by consuming uncooked or under cooked shellfish contaminated through contact with metabolic waste in sewage water.
This virus incubates inside the body for 14 to 28 days. As that threshold passes symptoms begin.
Symptoms can vary in intensity or be missing altogether. Adults tend to show signs of infection while children rarely do, especially those under six years of age. An untreated infection causes liver damage, with more severe infections doing more damage to the organs.
The infection that results from the Hepatitis A virus is typically spread by accidental ingestion of fecal matter. One of the main causes is eating food prepared by an individual who did not wash his or her hands after going to the restroom.
Some individuals may be more exposed to the Hepatitis A virus than others, including the homeless, sewage workers and zoo workers who spend time with monkeys and apes.
It’s best to prevent Hepatitis A infections in the first place with childhood or adult vaccination. Once a person is infected, they can only wait the infection out as the body’s immune system does its job.
Most treatments offered for this viral disease are aimed at minimizing the symptoms and helping the body fight off the infection. For example, people with trouble eating and diarrhea may receive intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and to restore electrolytes. You may need to go off some of your medications to reduce the load on your liver, with your doctor’s approval and support. It takes about six months for a Hepatitis A infection to end, but most patients recover with little to no permanent damage to the liver.
The best way to prevent the Hepatitis A virus is to get the vaccine. This vaccine includes two different injections that are spaced six to 12 months apart. Getting this vaccine is especially important if your job puts you at risk or if you live or are traveling to a country where the risk of getting the virus is high. This vaccine is also essential if you work in a hospital, nursing home or any other medical facility where your chances of accidentally coming in contact with the virus are higher.
There are other things you can do as well to reduce your chance of contracting Hepatitis A. Drink bottled water when visiting developing countries. Avoid street vendors when you travel to other places and choose established restaurants to dine at instead.
Be sure to wash up thoroughly using warm water and soap after using the toilet and before you eat or drink. If you plan on having sex with others, practice safe sex.