Hepatitis A Virus
Hepatitis A is a viral liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It’s not common here in the UK, but is widespread in other places around the world, including parts of Africa, India, and South America; so if you’re going to be travelling, and you may be entering a region where Hepatitis A is rife, it is be wise to get the Hepatitis A vaccination before you travel. The countries where you will be most at risk from contracting the hepatitis A virus are those countries that are relatively poor, are overcrowded, have poorly developed sanitation, and/or a lack of clean water.
How is Hepatitis A contracted
Hepatitis A is a viral infection which is normally contracted by putting something in your mouth that has become contaminated, usually through coming into contact with the faeces of someone who carries the Hepatitis A virus. It is also possible to contract it by:
- Eating shellfish that has been tainted by raw sewage
- Drinking contaminated water
- Using a needle that someone with Hepatitis A has already used
- Through sex (anal sex in particular)
The Hepatitis A virus can also be spread via close personal contact; especially enclosed and crowded environments such as an army barracks, boarding school canteens and dorms, or student halls of residence.
Have you contracted Hepatitis A?
If by any chance you have travelled to one of the countries at risk, you weren’t vaccinated, and you have contracted Hepatitis A, there’s no need to panic. There is no outright cure, although the symptoms can be treated. However, the condition will eventually heal itself as your immune system kicks in and the viral infection slowly diminishes and disappears. This process normally takes no longer than eight weeks, but in some cases can last for as long as six months.
The symptoms of Hepatitis A
The initial symptoms of hepatitis A are not unlike those of flu, and they include:
- A slight fever (normally no higher than 39.5° C or 101.3°F)
- Pain in the joints
- Feeling nauseous
- Actually being sick
The symptoms that kicking later include:
- Your skin and eyes becoming yellow (as with jaundice)
- Dark coloured urine
- Light coloured faeces
- Stomach pain
- Skin irritation
Under certain circumstances, senior citizens can experience more severe symptoms. In the majority of cases the liver will make a complete recovery.
What to do if you have contracted Hepatitis A
If you have unwittingly transmitted the Hepatitis A virus onto someone else; providing they are treated within two weeks of the original exposure, “full-blown” Hepatitis A can be prevented, and the viral infection cured. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to contract the virus, you need to take a few precautions in order to minimise the chances of passing it on to others. You should for example:
- Refrain from sex
- Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet
- Ensure your hands are hygienically clean before you prepare food
Treating the symptoms of Hepatitis A
As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for Hepatitis A once it has become established. It must unfortunately run its course. You can however treat the symptoms with paracetamol to manage any joint pain, and medications known as antiemetics, to help with any feelings of nausea or actual sickness. You should also get plenty of rest.
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