What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms can range from nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, loss of appetite, headache, and jaundice. With jaundice, you may see yellowing of the whites of the eyes and dark urine.
Since June 1, 2018 (start of the outbreak in Georgia), there have been 649 reported (and counting) cases of Hepatitis A in Georgia alone. Other states like Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Florida have been hard hit. In the United States, there have been close to 26,000 cases resulting in 259 deaths since the start of the most recent outbreak.
How is Hepatitis A Transmitted?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Hep A is generally transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food or water or through direct contact with an infectious individual. The CDC reports that Hep A can be transmitted “person-to-person transmission through close contact with an infected person, most recently, among people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, and men who have sex with men.” Hep A is transmitted often through the fecal-oral route (i.e. rimming).
The WHO states that the risk of hepatitis A infection is associated with a lack of safe water, and poor sanitation and hygiene (such as dirty hands).
How can I prevent becoming infected?
The most effective way of preventing Hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated. The vaccination is a simple two-shot series that is spread out over 6 months.
The WHO reports that “safe water supply, food safety, improved sanitation, hand washing and the hepatitis A vaccine are the most effective ways to combat the disease.”
What is the Treatment?
There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A. In most cases, individuals who become infected will clear the virus on their own. Most will clear the virus within 6 months. Hepatitis A treatment mainly involves supportive care: controlling nausea, rest and hydration, and it’s important to avoid alcohol or other medications, like tylenol, that could further inflame the liver.
Hepatitis A is infectious, so you should avoid sexual activity, wash your hands vigorously and often, and avoid preparing food while you’re actively infected.
You should discuss with your medical provider to ensure that you are immune and/or properly vaccinated for Hepatitis A.
Jeremiah Robinson is a licensed and certified Physician Assistant at T. Douglas Gurley MD in Atlanta, GA.