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What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. (Several types of hepatitis viruses can infect the liver. Each is named with a letter of the alphabet. There are 3 main types: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C).  You can contract hepatitis A from contaminated food, water or from an infected person.

Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver, which leads to soreness and swelling.

How does hepatitis affect the liver?

The liver breaks down waste products in your blood. When the liver is inflamed, it doesn't do a good job of getting rid of waste products. One waste product in the blood, called bilirubin (say "billy-roo-bin"), begins to build up in the blood and tissues when you have hepatitis. The bilirubin can make the skin or whites of the eyes of a person with hepatitis turn a yellowish color. This is called jaundice (say "john-dis").

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is spread through feces. You can get infected through close contact with an infected person (for example, changing a diaper or having sexual contact), even if that person does not have any symptoms. You can also get infected by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. The virus can live on hands, in water and in soil. Hepatitis A is common in developing countries.

How will I know if I have hepatitis A?

Children with the disease may not have any symptoms.

Most adults with the disease are sick for up to 8 weeks and miss about 30 days of work. If you have hepatitis A, you might get a sudden fever or headache and feel tired. You might not want to eat as much as usual, and you may feel queasy. You may vomit or have stomach pain. Some people with the disease have chills, aching muscles and joints, cough, diarrhea, constipation, or itchy skin.

Later in the disease, you may have jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and your feces may be pale or clay colored. Rarely, the brain can be affected. This can cause confusion, unusual eye and body movements, and even coma.

Your doctor can do a blood test to see if you have hepatitis A.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no medication to treat or cure hepatitis A. If you have the virus, you should get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet and avoid alcohol and acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol). Talk with your doctor about any other over-the-counter medications you are taking, as they may need to be changed or stopped while you have hepatitis A.

You may need to stay in the hospital for a short time if you get dehydrated, have severe pain, suddenly become confused develop bleeding problems.

How long will I be contagious?

You are most contagious soon after you are infected and before symptoms appear. Adults who are otherwise healthy are no longer contagious 2 weeks after the illness begins. Children and people with weak immune systems may be contagious for up to 6 months.

How can I keep from getting hepatitis A?

Ask your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine. The shot is safe for anyone over 2 years of age and can protect for up to 20 years.

Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after cooking, after using the bathroom, and after changing diapers.

Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating and avoid raw or undercooked meat and fish.

If you come into contact with someone who has hepatitis A and you have never had the virus or the vaccine, you should see your doctor right away. He or she can give you a shot that will help keep you from getting sick.

General information, questions and answers about Hepatitis A.  (SOURCE: familydoctor.org, USA)

 

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