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The liver is the largest organ inside the body, weighing around 3 pounds and is about the size of a football. The liver is a vital part of the body’s metabolic functions and immune system. These include breaking down or converting substances, extracting energy, making toxins less harmful to the body and removing them from the bloodstream. The liver receives blood with nutrients from the digestive organs through the portal vein.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are 5 viruses that cause hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. This article is exploring Hepatitis A, it’s causes, symptoms and solutions. Hepatitis
A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. In a typical case, people have a mild illness that lasts a few weeks, however, there are cases of severe problems that can last months. Hepatitis A virus is rarely dangerous. The majority of people who contract it make a full recovery. It can take a while to clear up, so knowing how to care for yourself is important during that time.
Hepatitis A, is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This virus spreads when an uninfected (unvaccinated) person ingests food or water contaminated with the feces from an infected person. The disease is associated with unsafe water or food, poor sanitation and personal hygiene. Some ways that you can contract this virus are:
The virus typically spreads when you eat or drink something contaminated with fecal matter, even just tiny amounts. It is not spread through sneezing or coughing.
The hepatitis A virus infects liver cells, causing inflammation. This inflammation affects how your liver functions.
There are certain situations where you may be at an increased risk for contracting this virus. Let’s take a look at some:
There have been several outbreaks of hepatitis A viral (HAV) infection among homeless populations. Much of the coverage has focused on a group in the San Diego area. The virus is transmitted through fecal-oral route. The virus is excreted in the stool of infected persons and ingested by mouth via contact with unwashed hands or contaminated objects. Since bathroom and hand-washing facilities are not readily available, the homeless present a ripe environment for transmission. The outbreak in San Diego is the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak not related to contaminated food or a single source. The California outbreak has actually resulted in deaths. Death from hepatitis A is rare, the disease tends to be flu like symptoms. Hepatitis A infections typically run their course and have no long-term effects.
The hepatitis A virus can survive for months outside the body. It will not survive freezing temperatures, but does well in warmer climates. It is difficult to kill with the usual disinfectant agents and standard hand-wash products, even those that are alcohol-based do not kill this virus.
Hepatitis A symptoms usually don’t appear until you’ve been infected with the virus for a few weeks. Having hepatitis A doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop symptoms. Many people never develop any symptoms.
Here are some of the symptoms that can occur:
These symptoms may be relatively mild and go away in a few weeks. Sometimes, however, hepatitis A infection results in a severe illness that lasts several months.
Adults have signs and symptoms of illness more often than children. Children may have the disease and experience little to no symptoms. Hepatitis A is contagious about 2 weeks before symptoms appear and during the first week in which they first show up.
Once you have had hepatitis A, your body builds immune cells to protect against it.
It is important to make an appointment with your doctor if you believe you are experiencing signs or symptoms of hepatitis A. Blood tests are used to look for signs of the hepatitis A virus in your body. Hepatitis A will be suspected if you have the symptoms above and your liver enzymes are elevated in your blood test results. Additional blood testing will be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
The specific tests ordered for confirmation are:
IgM (immunoglobulin M) antibody level – the body makes these when initially exposed to hepatitis A. They stay in the bloodstream for about 3 to 6 months.
IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies – these show up after the virus has been in the body for a while. They protect against hepatitis A for the rest of your life. If you test positive for them but not for IgM antibodies, it means you had a hepatitis A infection in the past or you’ve been vaccinated against it.
There are no specific treatment or pharmacological regimens for hepatitis A. Recovery can be slow and take anywhere from several weeks up to 6 months. Treatment focuses on maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance. The most significant intervention is typically replacement of fluids from vomiting and diarrhea.
Here are some suggestions for people recuperating from hepatitis A:
Taking care of yourself is crucial to getting back to your regular life routine.
There is a vaccine for hepatitis A which is about 95% effective for healthy adults. It is usually protective for about 20 years. The vaccine can also be given to children and is 85% effective for children, lasting 15 to 20 years. The vaccine is given in a series of 3 doses.
Vaccination is recommended for travelers to areas of the world with higher hepatitis A infection, men who have sex with other men, anyone with a blood clotting problem, illegal drug users (those who inject drugs) and long term liver disease patients.
Getting a hepatitis A vaccine or an injection of immunoglobulin (an antibody) within two weeks of exposure may protect you from infection.
Getting vaccinated is the best protection against hepatitis A. Millions of people have received the hepatitis A vaccine worldwide with no adverse effects. Keep in mind that good hygiene is key; always wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, before and after handling food, and after changing a diaper. Remember that hand sanitizers are not enough when hepatitis A virus is involved as they have been shown to be ineffective at killing the virus. The best practice is soap and water while singing the Happy Birthday Song twice through, which takes approximately 20 seconds to sing and is the recommended amount of time you should wash your hands per the Center for Disease Control (CDC). When you travel to locations with poor sanitation, never drink the tap water or eat raw food.
Never assume your doctor or hospital will automatically test you for any type of hepatitis virus. It is not part of a general blood workup. If you suspect or know that you have been exposed to hepatitis A, it is best to talk with your primary care physician as soon as possible. If you have been diagnosed with a hepatitis virus, you may be referred to a liver specialist like a Hepatologist or Gastroenterologist who specialize in liver disease. Be proactive, get tested and receive necessary vaccines that are available for you. Know the risk factors along with the facts and myths on how hepatitis is transmitted.
If you have any further concerns and questions, be sure to take them to your primary care physician for further guidance and help. Also be sure to let us know if there is any way we can further support you.