What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection that affects men, women and children around the world. It is spread by a virus, and can cause serious illness in those who become infected. This is especially true amongst the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. In many cases, however, those suffering from hepatitis A show few or no symptoms of infection. Young children in particular may be completely asymptomatic, yet they remain fully capable of transmitting the disease to others.
Hepatitis A is most common in areas where there is poor sanitation, and inadequate access to clean water for drinking and washing. In some less-developed countries, up to 90% of the children are infected at an early age. It is possible to be vaccinated against hepatitis A, and some people will develop immunity to the infection over time if they have been exposed at an early enough age.
Hepatitis A Symptoms for Men
The signs and symptoms of hepatitis A may resemble those of the flu. Both men and women may show no signs, or similar signs once infected by the virus. The symptoms usually develop three to six weeks after someone has been exposed to the virus. The most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A hepatitis A carrier may be feverish, and experience pain in the abdomen. Yellowing in the whites of a person's eyes, and yellowish skin is another sign of infection.
Hepatitis A Symptoms for Women
Women exhibit similar signs when infected with hepatitis A as with men. Again, it is common for both sexes to show few or no symptoms of infection. It appears that the older a person is when they are exposed to the virus, the more likely they are to develop obvious signs that they have picked up hepatitis A. The opposite is true as well. Most children and teens display no signs of infection.
A loss of appetite and fatigue are some other common effects that hepatitis A can have. Due to the mild nature of the most common symptoms of the disease, it is common for women and men to dismiss the warning signs as the effects of the flu or food poisoning.
How Do You Get Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is easily spread, especially in places where proper hygiene is not practiced, or where clean water is in short supply. Particularly in overcrowded facilities or living quarters, the entire household, village or health care facility can rapidly fall victim to hepatitis A. The most common method of transmission is by eating or drinking food and beverages that are contaminated with infected fecal matter. It is also possible, but far less common to pick up the virus as the result of a blood transfusion or by consuming food or drink that has come into contact with an infected individual's blood.
Shellfish can also be a host for the virus if they are grown in dirty waters where pollution levels are high. The hepatitis A virus can survive for long periods of time in both salt and freshwater. There is a definite relationship between income level and access to clean water, and the likelihood of a person contracting hepatitis A. Most of the cases that result in the developed world come from young people who pick up the virus while traveling or working in less developed nations.
Risks and Effects of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can cause serious liver damage in infected individuals. While rare, it is possible for a hepatitis A infection to result in acute liver disease and even complete liver failure. A liver transplant is often the last resort for individuals who find themselves suffering in such a situation.
Hepatitis A Treatment
Hepatitis A can be prevented by being vaccinated prior to exposure. Once a person is infected by the virus and begins to show symptoms of the illness, their course of treatment may depend on what specific problems they are having. Medicine may be prescribed to address diarrhea or nausea, if those are the complications that a person is displaying.
Generally speaking, those who have tested positive for hepatitis A are told to avoid drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods, and taking certain medications that may put more stress on an already compromised liver.
Hepatitis A Testing
There are five different strains of the hepatitis virus, A, B, C, D, and E. As the illness has usually results in very mild symptoms, it can be easily mistaken for a variety of other viruses and medical conditions. Blood tests are necessary to determine if an individual is carrying the hepatitis virus, and which particular strain is present.
The blood tests involve finding out if specific antibodies and serums are present in the blood. It usually take a week or so following a hepatitis A infection for these tests to detect these compounds, and produce reliable results. If the infection has become acute, there will also be elevated levels of certain liver enzymes in the blood.
Complications from Untreated Hepatitis A
Liver function can be compromised, and acute liver disease may occur in older people and those who have previously suffered liver damage or infections. In the vast majority of hepatitis A cases, the condition can be effectively managed by medication and dietary adjustments.
Can We Prevent Hepatitis A?
Childhood vaccination against hepatitis A is common in many developed countries. Practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and proper household sanitation greatly reduces the possibility of picking up hepatitis A. Close physical or sexual contact with an infected person also raises your risk of infection. As always, practice safe, protected sex, or stick to a single, monogamous mate.