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Hepatitis A: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Hepatitis Virus Liver Damage Hepatitis A belongs to a family of dangerous viral infections that cause significant damage to the liver. This viral family includes hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C which is all caused by different viruses. Even though each one displays similar symptoms, every form of hepatitis is transmitted and effects individuals differently than the others. In addition, Hepatitis A is contagious and is spread through the hepatitis A virus producing a mild to severe illness that could last for weeks or months.

The contagious disease typically spreads when the virus makes its way into the body through contact with food, drinks, or objects contaminated by stool or feces from a person infected with the virus. While Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C often start as acute infections, and can eventually develop into a chronic disease, Hepatitis A is always acute and never becomes chronic. In fact, some individuals can overcome the ravaging effects of hepatitis A without receiving treatment. Even so, there are vaccines to prevent the condition.

Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis A?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2500 new cases of hepatitis A infections were diagnosed in the United States in 2014. In recent years, the number of new infection cases has dropped dramatically since vaccines were first introduced to the public in 1995. Many health professionals, travelers, and children are vaccinated for the disease.

Typically, those most at risk for developing hepatitis A are those who come into contact with contaminated items, beverages, and food through a variety of means including:

  • Contaminated Objects – The disease can be spread through drinking or consuming water or food that has been contaminated by the hepatitis A virus. This also includes undercooked or frozen foods. The highest rates of hepatitis A occur in countries known to have poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions. Most individuals acquiring hepatitis A came into contact with contaminated vegetables, fruit, water, ice, or shellfish.

  • Person-To-Person Contact – The disease can be spread when an individual fails to properly wash their hands after using bathroom facilities or touching food and other objects. The disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact with a person infected with the disease, and not just limited to oral/anal contact. Caregivers can acquire the disease when cleaning up feces from a person infected with the condition.

High-risk groups of individuals who can acquire hepatitis A include those who live are traveling countries known to have a high rate of hepatitis A cases. Other high-risk groups include:

  • Living with or caring for an individual who is infected with hepatitis A

  • Sexual contact between men

  • Sexual contact with individuals suffering from hepatitis A

  • Hemophilia suffers who have clotting factor disorders

  • Illegal drug use including drugs not injected into the bloodstream

  • Families sharing quarters with individuals from countries that are known to have a high rate of hepatitis A cases.

The hepatitis A virus can survive outside the human body for months at a time or deep within the body in highly acidic digestive tracts for that time or much longer. Anyone concerned about the potential contamination of a hepatitis A virus should cook or boil liquids and foods for at least one minute at a temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the virus is destroyed. That said, freezing temperatures do not affect or kill the virus.

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Common Symptoms of Hepatitis A

Not all cases involving hepatitis A display the symptoms. However, adults tend to develop symptoms associated with hepatitis A compared to children and adolescents. The most common hepatitis A symptoms involve:

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pain

  • Dark urine

  • Abdominal pain

  • The yellowing of the eyes or skin (Jaundice)

  • Clay-colored bowel movements

The first notables of symptoms when exposed to hepatitis A will typically appear between two to six weeks and usually develop over five or more days. The symptoms tend to last no longer than two months although in some individuals, can last for six months or longer.

Many individuals spread hepatitis a virus without any noticeable symptoms, especially children. Individuals can transmit the dangerous virus to another human being in the two weeks before any symptoms might appear.

Almost everyone who acquires the hepatitis A virus will completely recover and not experience long-lasting damage to their liver. However, many feel sick for extended periods of time with or without treatment. Though rare, hepatitis A can cause liver failure that leads to death. Usually, these individuals are 50 years or older and are suffering from other conditions of the liver including hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

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Diagnosing the Condition

Verifying that you have hepatitis A usually requires a diagnosis by a trained medical professional. The doctor can confirm a diagnosis by evaluating the patient's symptoms and looking at what sample test results. The diagnostician will look for specific antibodies in the bloodstream and obvious indicators and symptoms associated with the condition including:

  • Muscle soreness

  • Feeling tired

  • Upset stomach

  • Diarrhea, stomach pain, and loss of appetite

The patient usually has blood test confirmation of a hepatitis A infection within a few days.

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Treating Hepatitis A

Many of the symptoms associated with hepatitis A go away within a few weeks without any form of treatment. However, the doctor can prescribe a variety of medicines to relieve the symptom. Only a few individuals with hepatitis A require hospitalization. During their hospital stay, they will usually receive adequate fluids and nutrition and ample amounts of rest help support their immune system and diminish one or all symptoms within days.

Any individuals hoping to treat their own case of hepatitis A to talk to their doctor before taking any over-the-counter drug, supplement, prescription medication, or other substance that could cause serious damage to the liver. Additionally, patients should avoid drinking any alcohol and routinely consume a healthy, balanced diet around foods that support the body's immune system.

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Hepatitis A Prevention

There many things that individuals can do to prevent acquiring hepatitis A infections cause by the dangerous virus. This includes improving immunization, food safety and sanitation within the person's environment. This means supplying adequate amounts of safe drinking water, starting and maintaining personal hygiene practices including routinely washing hands with safe water and disposing of sewage properly in the community.

Doctors recommend taking specific steps to reduce the potential of developing an infection that includes thoroughly washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 30 seconds after using the toilet, while preparing food or after changing a diaper. Individuals who are traveling to developing countries should bring along their own bottled water that is used to make ice cubes, brush their teeth, wash their vegetables, and fruit.

Hepatitis A vaccines are also available to protect individuals from the harmful virus and its serious side effects. However, vaccines to prevent hepatitis A have yet to be developed to protect children who are one year old or younger. Maine's of individuals have received the hepatitis A vaccine around the world and have suffered no serious adverse side effects or events.

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