Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness. It relates to inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver.The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water, or through direct contact with an infectious person.
The hepatitis A virus is one of the most frequent causes of food borne infection. Epidemics related to contaminated food or water can erupt explosively, such as the epidemic in Shanghai in 1988 that affected about 300 000 people. Hepatitis A viruses persist in the environment and can resist food-production processes routinely used to inactivate and/or control bacterial pathogens.
Improved sanitation and the hepatitis A vaccine are the most effective ways to combat the disease
Symptoms: The incubation period of hepatitis A is usually 14-28 days.
Symptoms of hepatitis A virus range from fever, malaise, and loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine and jaundice. Not everyone who is infected will have all of the symptoms.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who has not been vaccinated or previously infected can contract hepatitis A. Risk factors include:
- Poor sanitation
- Lack of safe water
- Injecting drugs
- Living in a household with an infected person
- Being a sexual partner of someone with acute hepatitis A infection
- Traveling to areas of high probability without being immunized.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Recovery from symptoms following infection may be slow and take several weeks or months. Therapy is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids that are lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
Improved sanitation, food safety and immunization are the most effective ways to combat hepatitis A.
The spread of hepatitis A can be reduced by:
- Adequate supplies of safe drinking water
- Proper disposal of sewage within communities
- Personal hygiene practices such as regular hand washing with safe water.
Several hepatitis A vaccines are available. All are similar in terms of how well they protect people from the virus and their side effects. No vaccine is licensed for children younger than one year of age.
Nearly 100% of people develop protective levels of antibodies to the virus within one month after a single dose of the vaccine. Even after exposure to the virus, a single dose of the vaccine within two weeks of contact with the virus has protective effects. Still, manufacturers recommend two vaccine doses to ensure a longer-term protection of about five to eight years after vaccination.