The most common of the seven known types of viral hepatitis is Hepatitis A. As with other forms of hepatitis, such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, this infection leads to inflammation of the liver. However, with hepatitis A, the complications are rarely serious. This form of hepatitis can affect all age groups. Once infected, symptoms are noticed within two to six weeks of infection.
How Do You Get Hepatitis A?
The Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is found in the feces of infected people and is most common in many parts of the world where sanitation and sewage infrastructure is not up to Western standards. It only takes a miniscule amount of feces in the mouth of a person to infect them. Personal hygiene, such as careful hand washing, can be very effective in minimizing the risk of this virus being passed from one person to another. One of the most common ways for Hepatitis A to be passed is through contaminated food and water.
However, Hepatitis A is also classified as a sexually transmitted disease because it can be passed on sexually, particularly during activities such as anilingus (rimming or oral/anal sex). Washing the genital and anal areas prior to sex and the use of condoms or dental dams can help to prevent this risk.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
Even if a person does not experience any symptoms, or has mild symptoms, their feces are still infectious to others. Symptoms of the infection appear as a flu-like illness with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There may be a loss of appetite and weight loss as well as jaundice, itchy skin and abdominal pain. Generally, the infection clears up in about two months but it may persist longer, or even recur after having gone away. Once a person has been infected with HAV, they will have a permanent immunity to it. There are rarely, if ever, complications from Hepatitis A infection and permanent damage to the liver is unlikely. In extreme cases, particularly with the elderly, the infection can require hospitalization or may even cause death, but this is rare.
Testing And Treatment For Hepatitis A
If there is a concern of Hepatitis A infection, then the doctor should be notified. The necessary tests will be run and treatment dispensed. A blood test is used to diagnose Hepatitis A and it will indicate that the person is either currently infected or was infected in the past. If it is current, a type of antibody will reveal that information and any people who have been recent contacts or sexual partners will need to be tested as well. If the person is not infected but is at risk for infection then immunization is recommended. Immunization is given in a series of injections and may be advised to use dietary precautions such as limiting alcohol and fatty foods that can increase liver inflammation.