Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is transmitted from person to person.
There are two types of hepatitis A:
- Acute hepatitis A. This is a short-term infection that usually lasts from two to six weeks.
- Chronic hepatitis A. This is a long-term infection that typically lasts for one to three years.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Most people who get hepatitis A don’t have any symptoms. But those who do can have the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Fever and vomiting
- Dark urine
- Joint pain, tiredness, and headaches
How is hepatitis A transmitted?
Hepatitis A is transmitted through contact with the feces of an infected person. This can occur when the feces of a person with hepatitis A enters the mouth of a person who isn’t infected.
You can also get hepatitis A if you:
- Touch the stool of an infected person
- Touch the fingers of an infected person
- Share eating utensils or drinking cups with an infected person
- Touch a toilet seat or other surfaces where hepatitis A can be spread
What are the risk factors for hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is more common in areas where there are a lot of outbreaks. You can also get hepatitis A by:
- Traveling to a region where there are outbreaks of hepatitis A
- Experiencing homelessness
- Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Working in a healthcare setting
- Being in prison
- Being around someone with hepatitis A
- Having sex while using injected drugs
How is hepatitis A diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of hepatitis A, see your doctor. They’ll ask about your symptoms and examine you. If you’re pregnant, your doctor might need to do more tests to make sure that you don’t have hepatitis B, a different type of viral infection.
Your doctor may order a blood test and an imaging test. These are used to look for signs of viral infection, such as liver inflammation.
Your doctor might also order a test to check for the hepatitis A virus. This is done by collecting fluid from your liver, or gallbladder. This fluid is sent to a lab for analysis.
How is hepatitis A treated?
Treatment for hepatitis A is usually aimed at clearing the infection. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to kill the hepatitis A virus.
If you have the acute form of the disease, you’ll likely need to stay in the hospital for at least a few days. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help you feel better.
In the long-term form of the disease, you’ll likely get prescribed medications to help you keep your liver healthy. You’ll likely also be asked to take a few antibiotics.
Can hepatitis A cause long-term liver damage?
If you get hepatitis A, your liver will have to work harder to clear the virus from your body. This can damage your liver. Over time, the damage can lead to liver failure.
How can I prevent hepatitis A?
The best way to protect yourself from hepatitis A is to take the following steps:
- Use a condom during sex
- Use a condom during anal or oral sex
- If you’re a woman, always use a condom during sex
- Don’t have sex with someone who has hepatitis A
- Don’t share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
In addition to these steps, you should also take the following steps to prevent hepatitis A:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often
- Clean and disinfect high-risk surfaces
When should I call my doctor?
If you think you have hepatitis A, call your doctor. These symptoms are usually mild and don’t require any medical treatment.
However, call your doctor if you have severe symptoms. These symptoms could be a sign of more serious conditions, such as:
- Hepatitis B
- HIV and hepatitis A infection
- Liver cancer
What is the long-term outlook?
If you’re diagnosed with chronic hepatitis A, you’re at risk for long-term liver damage. In most cases, it’s possible to manage the disease with medication.
The outlook for hepatitis A depends on your overall health and your response to treatment. Your doctor will recommend what levels of medication you can take to control your infection.
A small number of people with chronic hepatitis A will develop liver failure. In this case, your doctor will recommend a liver transplant.
Out of the 2.7 Million people in the United States who currently have hepatitis A, more than 2,000 people die from it each year.
A vaccine has been available since 1992. The vaccine can prevent hepatitis A in those who are at risk.
It’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible. This helps prevent the spread of hepatitis A.
What should I do if I have hepatitis A?
If you have hepatitis A, you should make sure that you get tested and treated if you have symptoms.
To prevent the spread of hepatitis A, make sure you practice safe sex. Use a condom during sex to prevent the spread of the virus.
You should also avoid sharing needles and syringes.
Outbreaks of hepatitis A are often connected to a foodborne virus called norovirus.
If you’re at a high risk for getting norovirus, you should avoid eating food that’s been in contact with someone who has norovirus.
If you have hepatitis A, you should avoid:
- Raw shellfish
- Unpasteurized milk
- Raw or undercooked meat
What’s the outlook for people who have hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A isn’t usually fatal. But some people with the infection will develop chronic liver disease.
The outlook depends on the type of hepatitis A you have as well as your overall health.
In most cases, the disease can be managed with medication. You might need to take one or more daily medications for the rest of your life.
The bottom line
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that can cause a number of symptoms. It’s passed from person to person through the fecal-oral route.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis A are usually mild. They don’t require treatment. The long-term form of hepatitis A can lead to liver failure.
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