Your liver can swell and become damaged when it is infected with the Hepatitis A virus. The virus is easily passed from person to person by eating food or drink water that is contaminated by pooh from someone who carries the virus, or if you are in close contact with someone who has the infection. You can get infected with this virus from someone who doesn’t show any symptoms. A Hepatitis A infection is a very serious condition and may eventually lead to liver failure.
There are no formal treatments for Hepatitis A, though the symptoms can be treated to reduce the impact of the disease. It usually clears within a short time and patients who suffer extensive liver injury may recover as well.
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms typically don't appear until you've had the virus for a few weeks. They include:
- Sudden nausea and vomiting.
- Pain or discomfort in your belly, especially on the upper right side beneath your lower ribs (by your liver).
- Clay-coloured stools.
- Loss of appetite.
- A slight fever.
- Dark urine.
- Joint pain.
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice).
- Intense itching.
These symptoms may be relatively mild and go away in a few weeks. Sometimes, however, an hepatitis A infection results in a severe illness that lasts several months.
Hepatitis A infection is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is passed through food or water contaminated by the faeces (pooh) of someone infected and through close, physical contact with the infected person (including sexual contact). Once contracted, the virus travels through the bloodstream to the liver, causing swelling and damage.
You're at increased risk of hepatitis A if you:
- Travel or work in areas of the world where hepatitis A is common. These are usually places where sanitation is poor.
- Attend childcare or work in a childcare centre.
- Live with another person who has hepatitis A.
- Have any type of sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A. Risks are especially high for men who have sex with other men.
- Are HIV positive.
- Are experiencing homelessness.
- Have a blood clotting disorder, such as haemophilia.
- Use any type of illegal drugs (not just those that are injected).
A hepatitis A vaccine or an injection of immunoglobulin (an antibody) may protect you from infection. Ask your healthcare provider about receiving the hepatitis A vaccine if:
- You work or travel in rural areas or slums with poor sanitation.
- Ate at a restaurant recently that reports a hepatitis A outbreak.
- Someone close to you, such as a roommate or caregiver, is diagnosed with hepatitis A.
- You recently had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.
You can prevent contracting Hepatitis A by taking two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine. You should also adopt healthy habits and personal hygiene practices, including handwashing with soap and flowing water.
There is no treatment for the infection. You can only reduce symptoms and damage to your liver by:
- Avoiding the consumption of alcohol.
- Eating a healthy diet containing lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Drinking lots of clean water.
- Avoiding sexual activity or intimate situations to protect your loved ones.
- Handwashing and practicing personal hygiene to protect healthcare workers and the general public. You wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.
- Taking plenty of bed rest to aid your recovery.
- There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection. Your healthcare provider will try to treat your symptoms and reduce how serious they are.
- Your healthcare provider may recommend that you should be hospitalized if your liver is seriously affected. Your treatment will depend on the symptoms.
A Hepatitis A infection will resolve by itself, but if practice self-care you will usually recover without lasting health problems. Your body will develop antibodies that help protect you in the long run so you don't get the active disease again.
Wash you hands with soap and water whenever you have gone to the toilet and before every meal. Make sure that you drink only clean or boiled water and that your food is thoroughly coked to avoid a Hepatitis A infection.
Know your health status, as well as the status of your sexual partners. This will put you at less risk of Hepatitis and many other sexually transmitted infections as well.