Hepatitis A Infection

Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus. This virus primarily attacks the liver, and the severity of the illness can vary quite a bit between individuals. Hepatitis A infection affects mostly children, but it can affect adults if adults travel to other parts of the world. An estimated 1.5 million people get sick from this infection each year. In many countries, close to 100 percent of the nation's population has been infected. While babies and toddlers are likely not to get sick at all when they catch this bug, older children can become so ill that they need to be hospitalized for more than a week from vomiting and dehydration.

Fact

Since hepatitis A infection is so common in many parts of the world, the hepatitis A vaccine is not recommended for children in developing countries. Most children in those countries are already immune to hepatitis A by the time the vaccine is scheduled to be given at age twelve months.

Ironically, outbreaks of hepatitis A only tend to happen in developed countries with good sanitation and hygiene practices. This is because almost all children from developing countries have already been exposed to hepatitis A at a very young age, so they are already immune to the infection by the time they enter school. The distribution of hepatitis A means that fecal contamination of food is very common in most parts of the world except for the United States, Canada, Japan, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

The initial illness caused by hepatitis A is indistinguishable from the illness caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C. The only way to confirm the diagnosis is through a blood test, but the result of this test may take many days to become available. Fortunately, you can only get sick from hepatitis A once in your life. After one infection, you are immune for life.

The hepatitis A virus can survive outside of the human body for long periods of time, from weeks to months. This hardy germ can stay viable in stools that have been expelled from the body, so in places where human feces is used as natural fertilizer, contaminated vegetables and fruits can be an important source of transmission.

Hepatitis A can be challenging to diagnose. Some people who have evidence of infection from the blood test in fact do not have a current bout of hepatitis A infection. Unless you are experiencing symptoms suggestive of hepatitis, you should not get a blood test to check for hepatitis A.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

Symptoms of a Hepatitis A inflection include:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Sore muscles

  • Headache

  • Nausea Loss of appetite

  • Pain on the right side of the body (where the liver is located)

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Dark urine

  • Diarrhea

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