Hepatitis A is an illness in which inflammation of the liver is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. The virus is transmitted by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It also spreads through direct contact with an infected person.
While almost every patient recovers fully from the illness, there is a small chance that a healthy person infected with Hepatitis A virus may become critically ill or even die. People with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses are more likely to have severe disease. The disease can also cause major complications during pregnancy.
Hepatitis A eventually resolves on its own, unlike Hepatitis B and C. These hepatitis infections can cause long-term infections, liver scarring (cirrhosis) and, occasionally, liver cancer.
Before visiting countries where the virus is known to be present, it is important to see Dr. Klapowitz of Travel Medicine Consultations for the Hepatitis A vaccine NYC residents need to stay healthy during their travel.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
You will not notice the signs and symptoms of hepatitis A until at least a couple of weeks after you have been infected. These signs and symptoms differ from person to person, and not all people infected with the Hepatitis A virus develop them.
The signs and symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and/or discomfort (mostly beneath the lower ribs, near the liver)
- Joint pain
- Intense itching
- Unexplained weight loss
- Dark-colored urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Jaundice (skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow)
Places where Hepatitis A is common:
Hepatitis A is very common in low- and middle-income countries that may have poor sanitation or hygiene. However, outbreaks can occur in any country and in any socio-economic region (for instance, a hotel food-preparer may come down with the disease and spread it to guests). The risk of getting infected by Hepatitis A virus is higher in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America, and the Western Pacific.
Hepatitis A vaccine and prevention:
Following food and water precautions closely and performing thorough hand-washing before eating are two effective prevention measures. Hepatitis A vaccines are also an important protection measure. The Hep A vaccination is usually a series of 2 shots, the first is over 90% protective at 10 days and the second, given 6 months or more later, is even more protective and should provide lifelong immunity.
For more information, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC/Hepatitis).