Topics covered in this snack-sized chapter:
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness.
It is spread by fecal-oral (or stool to mouth) transmission when a person ingests food or drink contaminated by an infected person's stool.
The disease is closely associated with poor sanitation and a lack of personal hygiene habits, such as hand-washing.
Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infection does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms.
For a person with viral hepatitis, signs and symptoms (especially early symptoms) may include one or several of the following:
People most likely to get hepatitis A due to following reasons:
- Mild abdominal pain (stomach pain)
- International travelers, particularly those traveling to developing countries
- People who live with or have sex with an infected person
- People living in areas where children are not routinely vaccinated against hepatitis A, where outbreaks are more likely
- Day care children and employees, during outbreaks
HAV is usually spread from person to person when an uninfected person ingests food or beverages that have been contaminated with the stool of a person with the virus.
Bloodborne transmission of HAV occurs, but is much less common.
Waterborne outbreaks, though infrequent, are usually associated with sewage-contaminated or inadequately treated water.
Casual contact among people does not spread the virus.
The most effective means of preventing viral hepatitis is to avoid contact with the blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions of infected individuals.
People who have acute or chronic viral hepatitis should:
- Men who have sex with men
- Avoid sharing items that could infect others, such as razors or toothbrushes.
There is no specific therapy for acute hepatitis A infection. Therefore, prevention is the key.
An effective vaccine is available and recommended for anyone with liver disease.
It is also recommended for people planning to travel to areas of the world where sanitation may be less than optimal.
Before receiving the vaccine, the patient usually will have a blood test to check whether antibody to the virus is present already, in that case vaccination is unnecessary.
- Protect sex partners from exposure to their semen, vaginal fluids, or blood. Properly used condoms may be effective in preventing sexual transmission.