The virus is usually found in the stool (faeces) of an infected person. It is transmitted when a person puts something that has been contaminated by the stool of an infected person into his/her mouth. This mode of transmission is known as the faecal-oral route.
How can I be infected?
- Consumption of contaminated food and drinks handled by HAV-infected persons, and/or in poor sanitary environments
- Sharing of needles with a HAV-infected injecting drug abuser
- Handling stool and blood samples of a HAV-infected person
- Eating raw shellfish collected from water that has been contaminated by sewage
- Sexual contact with a HAV-infected person, especially through unprotected anal sex
- Blood transfusion in countries where the donated blood is not screened
High risk factors
Anyone can get Hepatitis A, but some more likely than others such as those who:
- Sharing living quarters with an infected person
- Travel to Hepatitis A endemic countries
- Work in specimen laboratories, handling blood and stool samples of patients
- Work at or attend childcare centres where strict sanitary and hygiene measures are not taken
- Work as a sewage disposal or waste water management staff
- Share syringes with other injecting drug abusers
- Receive blood-clotting factors
Hepatitis A does not always show symptoms. Adults are more likely to exhibit symptoms than children. The symptoms are usually mild followed by fatigue, fever, nausea, loss of appetite and dark-coloured urine. Pain in the right upper abdomen is also evident. Jaundice can set in when the inflamed liver is incapable of removing the bilirubin through stool and builds up in the bloodstream.
HAV-infected people with no symptoms can still spread the virus.
Your doctor will carry out a physical examination of the abdominal area and blood tests for liver function and HAV antibodies. The presence of antibodies is an indication of HAV infection.
There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A infection. Supportive treatment to relieve the symptoms can be given.
If one has been exposed to the HAV, a temporary protection in the form of immune globulin (Ig) is given within the first two weeks of exposure.
To prevent further aggravating the inflamed liver, one will need to abstain from alcohol and certain medications which may be harmful to the liver.
In rare cases, acute Hepatitis A can lead to acute fulminant hepatitis, a fatal complication. It is characterised by increasing severity of jaundice, failing liver function, followed by coma and death. Only a liver transplant surgery can prolong and improve the quality of life in patients with acute liver failure.
- Hepatitis A vaccination or a combined Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccination
- Practise strict personal hygiene and sanitation
- Ensure proper hygiene practice in food preparation
- Do not share utensils or personal grooming kits with a HAV-infected person
- Do not consume tap water or ice cubes in countries where Hepatitis A is endemic
The prognosis of viral Hepatitis A for most patients is good as the disease usually resolves on its own over several weeks. Patients become immune to HAV and will not contract the disease again.