Overview and Facts about Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects your liver. Located under the ribcage in the upper-right of your abdomen, the liver functions to help your body break down and store nutrients while removing toxins from the blood. The hepatitis A virus causes severe inflammation of liver tissue, which can often resolve itself spontaneously. However, if it does not and is left uncontrolled, inflammation may cause damage to the liver cells and impair liver function.
One of several forms of hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A is highly contagious and is typically spread through contaminated water or food (usually with trace amounts of fecal matter), or from close contact with an infected person. Good hygiene and vaccinations can protect people from contracting hepatitis A, and most infected people are able to fully recover their digestive health without developing permanent liver damage.
Symptoms and Signs of Hepatitis A
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A do not usually appear for several weeks and are relatively mild; in some cases, they may not develop at all.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark-colored urine or clay-colored stool
- Itchy skin
- Jaundice, or a yellowish appearance of the eyes or skin
- Joint pain
- Sudden nausea or vomiting
Causes and Risk Factors of Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus causes sudden inflammation of liver tissue in which healthy cells are damaged, thereby reducing the liver’s ability to process nutrients and filter toxins. In hepatitis A, a person’s digestive health may temporarily be impaired, but rarely does the virus lead to other complications such as liver failure.
Risk factors for contracting hepatitis A include:
- Close contact with an infected person
- Drinking contaminated water
- Eating food handled by an infected person or a person who did not wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom
- Eating raw shellfish from water polluted by sewage
- Unprotected sex with an infected person
Tests and Diagnosis of Hepatitis A
To diagnose hepatitis A, a blood test will be taken in order to confirm the presence of the hepatitis A virus in your blood. In some cases, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) or imaging tests (ultrasound, MRI and CT scans) may be used to determine the extent of liver damage.
Treatment and Care for Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent people from becoming infected with the virus. Vaccination is generally recommended for young children, laboratory staff who may come in contact with the virus, people who travel to areas were hepatitis A is common, people who use illegal drugs or medications with a high concentrate of clotting factors and people with chronic liver disease. Maintaining good digestive health and hygiene practices and following safety precautions when traveling can also help you avoid contracting hepatitis A.
While there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, managing nausea symptoms, getting rest and avoiding alcohol (which can cause more liver damage) are approaches that will keep you comfortable as your body clears the virus on its own.