Hepatitis A: Symptoms, Causes, How The Infection Spreads, And More
A large number of infections can affect the human body and lead to symptoms that can sometimes become fatal if the infection is not treated appropriately. Hepatitis A, an infection that affects the liver, is a very common virus infection in the United States. The infection is highly contagious. Not everyone experiences symptoms when affected by the virus that causes Hepatitis A, but when symptoms do develop, the disease can become serious left untreated.
What Is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A belongs to a group of viruses that affect the liver, often referred to as acute viral hepatitis infection. This is the most common type of acute viral hepatitis infection, with the majority of liver diseases being diagnosed as a Hepatitis A infection. The infection can easily spread from one person to another, as well as from contaminated food, liquids, and certain particles. In the majority of cases, the virus is spread through contact with trace amounts of feces from an infected person, but there are also cases where the virus spreads through contact with an infected individual’s blood.
What are the complications of Hepatitis A?
A primary concern regarding infection with the Hepatitis A virus is that a large number of patients may remain asymptomatic, meaning they do not experience symptoms. The risk of symptoms developing is often linked to the age of the infected patient. Only around half of all affected children will experience symptoms. When symptoms do develop in children, they tend to be very mild. Approximately 75% of young adults who are infected with this virus develop symptoms, which may range from mild to more severe complications. Dark urine and jaundice are two particularly important factors to consider. The older the patient, the more likely they are to experience these complications. It is very rare for Hepatitis A to cause more serious complications. Only around 0.2% of cases where this condition is cared for by physician results in complications such as acute liver failure. In very rare cases, the infection may also cause death – this mostly occurs where the infection becomes severe and is not treated with the appropriate medication. Individuals who have already been diagnosed with the chronic liver disease in the past are also at a higher risk of developing acute liver failure when they are infected with this virus.
Hepatitis A symptoms
A number of symptoms have been associated with the presence of the Hepatitis A virus in a patient’s liver. It is important for individuals to understand these symptoms and to be aware of their development, especially when visiting a travel destination where the infection is more common. One of the most important symptoms of Hepatitis A to recognize in the presence of Jaundice, which can cause a yellowing of the skin. In some cases, the eyes may also become a yellowish color. This symptom usually does not develop in young children who are infected by the virus, but the majority of individuals over the age of six tend to develop Jaundice, along with a darkening of their urine. In addition to Jaundice and dark urine, various other symptoms have also been associated with the Hepatitis A viral infection. These may include the development of a fever, abdominal pain, joint pain, fatigue, and a loss of appetite. Some patient also experiences nausea when they are infected by this virus, which may sometimes be accompanied by vomiting. The stools of a patient with Hepatitis A may become clay-colored.
How Is Hepatitis A Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Hepatitis A is a two-step process. When a patient complains about symptoms that link to this viral infection, a physician will start by performing a thorough physical examination and asking the patient more in-depth questions about their symptoms. The physician may ask the patient about the color of their urine and will also look for signs of Jaundice. If the physician suspects that the patient has Hepatitis A, then they will request a blood sample to be taken and specific blood tests to be performed. These tests will detect the presence of antibodies that the body might have developed in response to structural proteins and the Hepatitis A virus. In particular, blood sample tests are used to identify whether IgM anti-HAV antibodies are present in the patient’s blood – a positive finding yields to the diagnosis of Hepatitis A in the patient. There are different techniques that can be used for these tests, such as:
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
- Dot blot immunogold filtration
- Immunochemical staining
Hepatitis A treatment
No specific treatment protocols have been identified or introduced to target the virus that causes the infection diagnosed as Hepatitis A. Once the immune system has detected the infection, and antibodies are produced and sent toward the liver. This is how the body’s immune system will counteract the virus – this is the most effective treatment against the infection at the moment. During the phase of infection, some patients may experience symptoms and potential complications. Treatments for the complications of an infection by the Hepatitis A virus may be available, depending on the particular symptoms that the patient has developed. It is important to note that detecting the presence of Hepatitis A within two weeks of exposure qualifies a patient for an appropriate vaccine. Even though the infection would still run its course, the vaccine will help to prevent more serious complications and symptoms from developing. Most patients are able to recover fully within a few weeks by following three principles in regards to the treatment of the infection:
- The patient needs to ensure they rest a lot and sleep well. This will greatly speed up recovery.
- Optimal nutrition intake is highly advised to help the immune system in fighting off the infection and keeping the body healthy.
- Proper hydration is also vital in the case of Hepatitis A. Not only does hydration provide a number of benefit to the patient’s body during the infection, but the fluids will also assist with the elimination of the virus as the immune system fights against it.
It should be noted that there are some rare cases where a patient may need to be hospitalized and receive clinical care to recover from Hepatitis A. This is more common in patients who develop severe jaundice and other complication that may indicate a risk for acute liver failure.
Can Hepatitis A Be Prevented?
The prevention of Hepatitis A is crucial and also leads to a more positive outcome since the existing prevention methods are highly effective in eliminating the virus before it can cause infection. A simple Hepatitis A vaccine has shown promising results when it comes to preventing the viral infection, even when exposed to contaminated food sources. Vaccinations are readily available at a variety of healthcare facilities in most local areas. A visit to a physician can also yield vital details on how the patient can obtain the appropriate vaccination to help reduce their risk of being infected with Hepatitis A. Understanding that traveling to certain locations can also put the individual at a higher risk is important, as this will ensure they are vaccinated prior to their travels.
How Do I Know If I Am At A High Risk For Hepatitis A?
The latest research into this virus has provided the healthcare system with a better understanding of particular risk factors that play a part in the spreading of the Hepatitis A virus. It is important for all individuals to become aware of these risk factors, especially since this condition is common in many areas of the world – including certain parts of the United States. Individuals traveling to high-risk destinations throughout the world is considered to be at the highest risk of being infected with the Hepatitis A virus. This is why being vaccinated against the virus prior to any travels is highly advised. The consumption of water, liquids, and food that have been contaminated with the virus, also place a person at a significant risk of developing a Hepatitis A infection. Additionally, sexual intercourse is also known to be a risk factor for the virus, but only when one individual partaking in the activity has been infected.
What Countries Are Considered High Risks For Hepatitis A Infections?
Even though the Hepatitis A virus can infect a person regardless of their location, there are some countries and particular travel destinations that are known to be at a higher risk for the transmission of the virus that causes this infection. The risk of infection with Hepatitis A is highest in areas where sanitation and hygiene are poor. This includes areas where there is no access to safe water and clean food. In such areas, the virus can quickly spread among the population and cause travelers to become infected – this, in turn, puts them at risk of infecting their loved ones when they return home. Particular regions of the world where Hepatitis A infections are especially prevalent when compared to the rest of the world include:
Hepatitis A is considered a highly infectious virus that affects the liver and can lead to dangerous complications when not attended to promptly following the development of symptoms. The condition can be treated successfully and, thanks to modern-day advancements in medicine, can now also be effectively prevented. Understanding when to obtain a vaccination is especially important for travelers who will be visiting a location where the virus is more common – this will prevent the individual from being infected during their travels.