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Hepatitis A

(infectious hepatitis)

What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver.

How do you get it?
Most people get the disease by the fecal-oral route. That means you get it by eating foods contaminated with feces from an infected person. You can also become infected by sexual contact with an infected person. Improper disposal of sewage, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions promote the spread of the virus. Outbreaks of hepatitis A have been caused by infected food handlers or by eating raw or inadequately cooked shellfish (oysters, clams, etc.) harvested from fecally contaminated waters.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A ranges from a relatively mild ailment lasting 1 or 2 weeks, to a severe, disabling illness lasting for several weeks or more. The symptoms include the abrupt onset of fever, stomach pain, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, and vomiting. The urine may turn dark golden-brown in color, followed several days later by pale colored stools and yellowish discoloration (jaundice) of the mucus membranes, skin, and whites of the eyes. Infants and young children with hepatitis A tend to have milder symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults.

When do symptoms start?
The symptoms usually begin 4 weeks after infection with the virus, but the onset can range from 2 to7 weeks.

What is the treatment for hepatitis A?
There is no special treatment for persons with hepatitis A. However, a shot called immune globulin (IG) can be given to household members, sexual partners, and other close contacts of a person who is contagious for hepatitis A. IG is approximately 90% effective in either preventing or lessening the effects of hepatitis A when given within 14 days of exposure to the virus. IG can also be given to control outbreaks of hepatitis A, especially in institutional settings such as hospitals, care homes, daycare facilities, and correctional facilities.

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis A?
Yes. A vaccine has recently been approved for use in the USA. Consult your physician for availability.

If you get hepatitis A once, can you get it again?
No. Once a person recovers from hepatitis A, they are protected for life.

For how long is a person contagious?
The contagious period begins 1 to 2 weeks before the symptoms start and lasts 7 to 10 days following the onset of dark urine or jaundice. If no dark urine or jaundice appears, then consider a person still contagious for at least 2 weeks after the onset of first symptoms.

How can you keep from getting it?
Carefully wash your hands after using the toilet or after changing diapers, and especially before preparing or eating food.

Do not drink from untreated water supplies.

When you are unsure of the level of cleanliness of a place serving food, order only cooked foods heated to a high temperature. The virus is inactivated by thorough cooking.

Avoid drinks containing ice and ice made with water suspected of being contaminated.

If a sexual contact or someone in your household has hepatitis A, get a shot of immune globulin (IG) from your doctor within 2 weeks after your last contact.

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© Tuesday, December 03, 1995 - 05:42:33 AM