Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis A Infection
- Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. A virus causes viral hepatitis.
- Hepatitis A virus is one of several hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and impair the function of your liver.
- Nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, Fatigue, Dark urine, Yellow skin or eyes, Upset stomach, and restlessness are the common signs and symptoms of hepatitis A infection.
- Washing hands regularly, avoiding contaminated food and water, getting vaccinated, and maintaining hygiene will prevent Hepatitis A.
- A liver-friendly diet also aids the prevention and treatment of Hepatitis A by increasing the body's immunity and strengthening the liver.
One of the three common types of viral hepatitis infections, Hepatitis A is perhaps most likely to infect a person, because it spreads through contaminated food and water, unlike Hepatitis B and C, which involve some sexual activity, contact with bodily fluids, and sharing of needles, razors, toothbrushes, etc.
How serious is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A infection doesn't always come with symptoms, and when it does, the symptoms may become evident 2-4 weeks after a person first gets infected with the virus. Even a minute amount of fecal matter from one infected person entering another's bloodstream through the oral route can cause Hepatitis A infection. Sexual transmission of this virus happens if the partners have oral sex after anal sex.
Hepatitis A infection is generally considered an acute condition — this type of viral hepatitis resolves itself in less than six months (whereas a chronic condition would mean more than six months), and though it's painful, generally there aren't any further complications. However, in some cases, Hep A may lead to liver failure.
FAQs on Hepatitis A
1. What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis refers to any liver inflammation, viral or non-viral. The liver is harmed when it's inflamed, though the liver can regain its health if the inflammation goes away soon enough. Hepatitis can be caused by heavy alcohol use, pollutants, some drugs, and certain medical conditions, but a virus most commonly causes it. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral disease — it occurs when infected fecal matter somehow finds its way into another person's mouth (when eating, drinking, or having sex).
2. What is Viral hepatitis?
A virus causes viral hepatitis, which can be acute (lasting less than six months) or chronic (lasting more than six months). The hepatitis virus can be passed from person to person. Sexual contact can spread certain kinds of viral hepatitis.
The following are examples of viral hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis D
- Hepatitis E
Hepatitis can also be caused by viruses like CMV, EBV, and HSV.
3. What is the difference between hepatitis A and hepatitis B?
Hepatitis A and B are two different types of liver illnesses caused by two separate viruses. Even though they can have similar symptoms, they spread in distinct ways and have different effects on the liver.
Hepatitis A is usually a transient infection that does not progress to the chronic stage. Hepatitis B might start as a short-term acute infection, but the virus can stay in the body for a long time, causing chronic disease and long-term liver problems in certain people.
Hepatitis A and B are both preventable diseases.
4. What causes Hepatitis A and how does it spread?
The Hepatitis A virus can be found in the blood and stools of infected people. This virus can spread if it's accidentally ingested by a person.
The two main modes of transmission are:
- Person-to-person contact: Hepatitis A virus is spread by person-to-person contact like sexual contact or taking care of an infected person. Hepatitis A is a very contagious virus; infected people can spread the infection even before they become ill.
- Contaminated food or water: Hepatitis A virus contamination can happen at any point with food. Growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking, food can be contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus. People in some countries, where hepatitis is common, are at a higher risk of having infected food and water with the Hepatitis A virus.
5. Who is at an increased risk for Hepatitis A?
People who are at very high risk for Hepatitis A include:
- International travelers who travel to countries where Hepatitis A is common
- Drug abusers or people who are addicted to illicit drugs
- Individuals who are experiencing homelessness
- People who are at risk of exposure at work, school, colleges
- Those who are looking forward to having close personal interaction with an overseas adoptee
- Patients with chronic liver illness or HIV
- Men who engage in sex with other men
6. What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
Signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A infection don't appear for at least 2 weeks after being infected. Some patients don't develop symptoms at all.
Some show the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Yellow skin or eyes
- Upset stomach
- Dark brown colored bowel
- Mental disturbance
7. What should you do if you get Hepatitis A infection?
When you think you've exposed yourself to the Hep A virus, you should first go to your doctor or government health department within 2 weeks of exposure. An early check-up can help to start the treatment even before symptoms appear.
8. Can you prevent Hepatitis A infection after getting exposed to the Hep A virus?
If a Hepatitis A vaccine single shot is given within 2 weeks of exposure to the virus, it can help to prevent infection. Your doctor may recommend additional immune globulin with the Hepatitis A vaccine, which depends on your age and health condition.
9. Once you get Hepatitis A, can you get infected again?
Usually, no. Once you recover from Hepatitis A, you develop antibodies. Those antibodies protect you from the Hepatitis A virus if and when there's another virus transmission.
10. How long can the Hepatitis A virus survive outside the body?
The Hepatitis A virus can live for months outside the body. The virus can be killed by heating food and beverages to 185°F (85°C) for at least 1 minute. The virus does not die when exposed to frigid temperatures.
11. How to diagnose Hepatitis A infection?
If you have Hepatitis A symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has Hep A, you should see your doctor.
To confirm the diagnosis of Hepatitis A, your doctor will assess your symptoms and do a blood test. You have acute Hepatitis A if the test detects antibodies to immunoglobulin M (IgM). If you have antibodies but not IgM antibodies, you are immune to the virus, either because you've had a case and recovered or because you've received the Hepatitis A vaccine.
12. What is the treatment for Hepatitis A?
Your doctor may give you the Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin if you haven't had the vaccine and your infection has been verified by a blood sample (IG). Only if the treatment is taken within 2 weeks after being exposed to HAV, will it work.
If you've been exposed but can't get the vaccination or immune globulin, you'll probably still recover without treatment. The doctor might prescribe some basic medications for relief. However, their main advice for you is to follow some self-care guidelines
13. How to prevent Hepatitis A? What is Hep A vaccine?
A vaccine manufactured from an inactivated — dead — virus can prevent Hepatitis A. If you're not sure if you've got the vaccine, ask your doctor to perform a test to see if you've been vaccinated. More than one shot is required to achieve the full benefit of the Hepatitis A vaccine.
You may also keep your hands clean by washing them frequently. After using the restroom, changing diapers, and touching food, wash your hands for at least 15 to 30 seconds with soap and warm water.
If you're traveling in another country, especially a developing one, only drink bottled water and brush your teeth with bottled water. Avoid eating raw and uncooked foods, and wash and peel fruits and vegetables. And if bottled water is not available, use boiled water.
14. What precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of passing Hepatitis A to other people?
- If you have Hepatitis A, avoid all sexual activity. Sexual activity of any kind might spread the infection to your partner. Condoms are insufficiently protective.
- After using the restroom and changing diapers, wash your hands thoroughly. Scrub for at least 20 seconds and then rinse thoroughly. Use a paper towel to dry your hands.
- While you're infected, don't prepare food for others. It's quite easy to spread the virus to others.
15. Who should get Hepatitis A vaccination?
The following people should get a Hepatitis A vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States:
All children under the age of 1 year, as well as older children who have not received their childhood vaccine
- Infants traveling internationally when aged 6-11 months
- People who take illicit drugs of any kind, not only injectable ones
- Chronic liver disease patients, especially those with Hepatitis B
- Workers in laboratories who may be exposed to Hepatitis A
- Adoptive families and caregivers from countries where Hepatitis A is prevalent
- People who come into direct touch with Hepatitis A patients
- Men who engage in sex with other men
- Anyone who is homeless and is at least 1 year old
- People who work or travel in areas where Hepatitis A is prevalent
- People who have clotting factor deficiencies
16. How is the Hepatitis A vaccine given?
Hepatitis A vaccination comes in two varieties:
1) The single-dose Hepatitis A vaccine is administered in two parts, six months apart, and both shots are required for long-term Hepatitis A protection.
2) There is a dual-protection Hep A vaccine, which protects against both Hepatitis A and B. Anyone above the age of 18 can receive the combo vaccine, which is administered in three parts over six months. Both Hepatitis A and B require all three doses to provide long-term protection.
17. Is the Hepatitis A vaccine safe?
The Hepatitis A vaccine is completely safe. The Hepatitis A vaccine has not been linked to any major side effects. The most common negative effect is soreness at the injection site.
As with any treatment, there's always a chance that someone will develop a major condition after receiving the vaccine. However, the hazards associated with Hepatitis A infection are far greater than those linked with the Hep A vaccine.
18. What is immune globulin?
Immune globulin is an antibody-containing material derived from human blood plasma. Antibodies are the body's natural defense against infection. Immune globulin injections may be provided in some instances, such as when a person is too young or unable to be vaccinated due to a past, life-threatening reaction to the Hepatitis A vaccine or a vaccine component. Immune globulin, unlike the Hep A vaccine, does not give long-term protection against infection.
19. Who should not receive the Hepatitis A vaccine?
People who've ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the Hep A vaccine or who are allergic to any part of the vaccine should not have it. If you have any serious allergies, tell your doctor. In addition, the vaccination is not approved for use in children under the age of 1 year.
20. Can the Hepatitis A vaccine protect you from other types of hepatitis?
No, the Hepatitis A vaccine only protects against the Hepatitis A virus, unless you've taken the 3-dose combination shot for both Hep A and Hep B.
For Hepatitis B, there's a separate vaccine available. Hepatitis C does not have any vaccine at this time.
21. Should an infected person be excluded from school or work?
Due to Hepatitis A, liver functions get weaker. A healthy and well-managed diet may help you in this condition (and also prevent the infection, if you don't have it already).
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. These fiber-rich foods help in digestion and assist liver functions. Leafy vegetables may provide benefits for managing hepatitis.
- Grains: Bread, rice, and oats are included under grains. Whole grains can help you retain muscle mass by increasing your protein consumption.
- Protein foods: When you have hepatitis, getting the correct quantity of protein is crucial. Protein should be consumed in the range of 1gm to 1.5gm per kilogram (kg) of body weight. Some good examples of protein-rich foods are lean meats, low-fat milk, almonds, cheese, and nuts.
What food should a hepatitis patient avoid?
Knowing what foods cause Hepatitis A is crucial to preventing it in the first place.
Here's a list of foods Hep A patients should avoid:
- Avoid sodium and prepare food with little or no salt.
- Cut down on beverages and foods with added sugar.
- Avoid alcohol until your liver completely recovers.
Though highly contagious, Hepatitis A is a preventable disease, if you get vaccinated. Alongside that, you should build immunity with proper nutrition, and maintain hygienic practices when it comes to food and water, especially when traveling.
Did you like our Article?
- Previsani N, et al. Hepatitis A. Perspectives in Medical Virology. 2003 Jan 1;10:1-30.
- Clemens R, et al. Journal of infectious diseases. 1995 Mar 1;171(Supplement_1):S44-9.
- Hepatitis A available at Cleveland Clinic
- Hepatitis A available at Mayo Clinic
- Hepatitis A available at Hepatitis A Signs and Symptoms