Hepatitis A Virus(HAV) is a virus that infects the liver and is spread through water and food. It is usually present under conditions of poor water supply hygiene and sanitation. The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver.The virus is spread from person to person by the fecal-oral route. In other words through contact with infected people, either directly or indirectly, by eating contaminated food or water. Young children are able to infect other children or family members.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A
Usually, it takes up to 15-50 days for the infection to develop after initial contact (incubation period) and symptoms can last about 4-6 weeks. The symptoms of HAV infection include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice(yellow skin and eyes)
The severity of the symptoms can range from mild, lasting up to 2 weeks, to severe lasting several months. In areas where for HAV is very common (endemic), most HAV infections occur in young children. Specific blood tests can confirm the diagnosis of HAV. Unfortunately, there currently is no specific treatment or medication. However, some people may require hospitalization for dehydration and other supportive treatments such as Intra-Venous(IV) fluids..
Preventing Hepatitis A
From the community point of view, good sanitation and clean water supply prevents the spread of HAV. Personal hygiene, including hand washing, especially before and after all meals, is a very important measure. Fortunately, there is also a vaccine available for HAV. This vaccine requires an initial dose and then a booster (second shot) between 6-12 months later. The booster dose ensures protection for up to 20 years. This is recommended for travelers planning to visit countries where there is poor sanitation and HAV infections are frequent. There is a Hepatitis vaccine that protects against both HAV and the Hepatitis B virus. Your health care provider can give you more details.
What is the difference between Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
There are some common features shared by both these infections and these include that:
- Both are viruses
- Both Hepatitis A and B viruses infect the liver
- There is no treatment for either
- Vaccines are available against both of these viruses.
However there are some very important differences which are:
- The Hepatitis B virus is spread through blood to blood contact like unprotected sex, blood transfusions, and by sharing needles and toothbrushes. HAV is spread by ingesting contaminated food or water.
- The HAV infection usually resolves its own, with no long term consequences.Hepatitis B infection, on the other hand, is much more severe, as it can last permanently in various forms. Unfortunately, this can lead to lead to liver failure and even liver cancer.