A recent outbreak of hepatitis A in a Bloomington, Indiana restaurant where customers and employees were encouraged to be vaccinated; got me questioning what is hepatitis A and how can I protect myself from it?
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. It is highly contagious but rare. The severity of the illness can be mild to severe and lasts anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Most people feel sick for a few weeks but fully recover and have no lasting liver damage. There were 4,000 cases of hepatitis A in the US in 2016.
You can contract hepatitis A from:
- Ingesting the virus from food or drink contaminated by undetected stool from an infected person
- Personal contact with an infected person through sex
- Contaminated food or water – hepatitis A is common in areas of poor sanitation or poor personal hygiene. (Chlorinated water, like we have in the U.S., kills the hepatitis virus.)
Increased Risk Factors:
- Direct contact with someone who has the virus
- Travel in countries where hepatitis A is common
Not everyone has symptoms. Most children under 6 have no symptoms. Symptoms can show up 2 to 7 weeks after exposure and you are contagious up to two weeks before symptoms prevent themselves.
- Nausea, Vomiting, Loss of appetite
- Dark urine, diarrhea
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
The good news is you can be treated for hepatitis A and you can be vaccinated against hepatitis A. So if you are going to travel to a country with poor sanitation see your doctor and get vaccinated. If you are exposed to someone with the virus you can still be treated with a shot of immune globulin which will prevent severe illness.
Doctors also recommend rest, fluids and proper nutrition. Some people may need to be hospitalized.
Once you develop hepatitis A you are protected from the virus for life.
- Get vaccinated.
- Wash your hands and practice good hygiene.
- Cook food to safe temperatures that kill viruses.
In the U.S. we have a good reporting system, where the public is notified of an infection and told to seek treatment if you think you were exposed. Between this good communication, our sanitary food and water supply and the now available vaccine hepatitis A should remain a low risk virus for most of us.
Source and Additional Information can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm