Formerly known as infectious hepatitis, hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that is found in the blood and stool of individuals who are infected. It is treatable and most patients recover with no permanent liver damage. Hepatitis A can be prevented by washing your hands before preparing meals or eating, by cooking your food thoroughly and through vaccination.
Causes of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is often spread through sexual contact, sharing needles or the ingestion of small amounts of fecal matter from an infected person. Transmission can occur when you touch something with the virus on it and then put your hands in your mouth. Water can also be contaminated.
Those most at risk for hepatitis A include:
- People who inject illegal drugs
- People who have close contact with someone from an area where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sex with men
- People who work in child care
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
Symptoms often don’t appear until a few weeks after exposure and can include:
- Stomach pain, vomiting and loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
Symptoms usually only last a few weeks, though some infections can become serious and last several months. A small percentage of patients can develop life-threatening complications that may require a liver transplant. These complications may include liver failure, pancreatitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare but serious condition in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes even paralysis.
Diagnosing Hepatitis A
If you’ve come in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis A, it’s important that you see your healthcare provider. The diagnostic process will likely include a review of your symptoms and a simple blood test.
Treatments for Hepatitis A
If you seek treatment within two weeks of exposure, your healthcare provider may administer the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin (IG) to help you recover. If these treatments aren’t options, your treatment plan will likely involve rest, plenty of liquids, a healthy diet and alcohol avoidance.
Tampa General Hospital’s liver disease and hepatology experts are committed to helping people cope with and conquer the complex medical conditions that can result from diseases of the body’s vital organs, including the liver.