Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It has many causes. One of the causes is infection with a virus called the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This virus most often spreads through infected food or water. It can also spread directly from person to person. This could happen if someone does not wash his or her hands after coming in contact with infected stool-for example, after using the bathroom or changing a dirty diaper. HAV spreads more easily in group settings such as daycare centers or nursing homes. Unlike Hepatitis B and C, HAV cannot become a chronic illness. It rarely causes long-term problems.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A Infection
Symptoms usually appear about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus. Possible symptoms include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Pain in the stomach area
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine, light-colored stools)
- Itchy skin
Diagnosing Hepatitis A
A sample of blood is taken to test for HAV. Other tests may be done to check the health of the liver.
Treating Hepatitis A
There is no cure for hepatitis A. The virus will run its course. Treat symptoms as you would flu symptoms, including drinking fluids and getting plenty of rest. During recovery, avoid fatty foods. DO NOT drink alcohol, which can damage the liver. Also DO NOT take any over-the-counter medications without checking with your healthcare provider. The liver processes all medications, and certain medications can be harmful to the infected liver.
Preventing Hepatitis A from Spreading
A person with hepatitis A can spread the virus to others, even before symptoms appear. He or she can continue to spread the virus for a few days after symptoms start. Take these precautions to prevent HAV from spreading:
- Wash hands often, and always after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing food or eating. Work up a good lather with soap and warm water. Scrub for at least 10-15 seconds, then rinse.
- Avoid work and public areas until symptoms are gone.
- Once you've had hepatitis A, you cannot get it again, so you don't need the hepatitis A vaccine. But you should consider vaccination against hepatitis B, a more serious form of hepatitis.
- Members of the household should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B if they haven't been already
When to Call the Healthcare Provider
- Symptoms get worse instead of better
- You have signs of dehydration: decreased urination; very dark urine; dry, sticky mouth
- You have swelling in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, abdomen, or face
- You bleed from the nose, mouth, or rectum or have bloody stools