Acute Hepatitis A
Hepatitis is a condition damaging the liver. It can be caused by three different viruses, giving rise to three distinct diseases known as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. These illnesses are categorized as either “acute” or “chronic,” and each of these states has a distinct set of symptoms or lack of symptoms.
“Acute” versus “Chronic” Hepatitis
Acute hepatitis means that it is a newly occurring infection. Chronic hepatitis means that the virus remains in a person’s body, resulting in a serious, long-term disease. Hepatitis A only occurs as an acute infection and never becomes chronic. On the other hand, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can begin as acute infections, but in some people the virus results in chronic disease and long-term liver problems.
Acute Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread when one puts in one’s mouth something that has been contaminated with feces of a person with HAV infection. This type of spread is called “fecal-oral.” Many HAV infections are spread via sex with an HAV-infected partner, injection drug use, or international travel to regions where hepatitis A is common or where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene practices.
Symptoms of hepatitis A can occur anywhere within 15-50 days after exposure the virus, although some people experience no symptoms at all. If symptoms are present, they usually appear suddenly and can make a person feel quite ill. Symptoms of acute hepatitis A include fatigue, fever, appetite loss, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and jaundiced skin.
Fortunately, HAV symptoms generally last less than two months; however some people remain ill for up to six months and may even require hospitalization. There are no medications to treat hepatitis A but people with hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Supportive care is comprised of plenty of rest, fluids, adequate nutrition, and sometimes fever-reducing drugs.
In a rare condition called “relapsing hepatitis A” some people experience a reoccurrence of symptoms of hepatitis A in 6-9 months, but the condition never becomes chronic. Overall, with the advent of vaccines to prevent HAV infection, the occurrence of hepatitis A has steadily decreased over the last years.
Hepatitis A Diagnosis and Vaccination
If you suspect that you have been exposed to hepatitis A, you should seek medical advice immediately to determine whether immune globulin (IG) – a concentrated dose of antibodies that includes anti-HAV – and/or hepatitis A vaccine should be administered. The closer to the exposure time either one of these protections is given, the better.
The good news is that once you recover from hepatitis A infection, you develop antibodies that provide long-term protection from future infections. After recovering from hepatitis A, you won’t contract it again and you are not contagious – that is, you cannot transmit the virus to anyone else. However, you are not immune from contracting hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it is recommended that all individuals, including children over the age of one year, receive the hepatitis A vaccine.