Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A Food Poisoning

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The illness is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, tiredness, nausea, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort, followed in several days by jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 35,000 people in the United States contract hepatitis A, resulting in 100 deaths annually.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A infection?

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection may include fever, tiredness, nausea, loss of appetite, dark urine, and abdominal discomfort, followed several days later by jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). The onset of these symptoms may be very sudden. On the average, hepatitis A symptoms appear 28 days (with a range of 15–50 days) following exposure to the virus. Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although a small number of individuals may remain ill for as long as 6 months. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children, and some infected individuals may not have any signs or symptoms of the illness.

How are Hepatitis A infections caused?

Hepatitis A virus is transmitted by fecal to oral contact, either through close contact with an HAV- infected individual (even if they do not appear ill), or by ingestion of HAV- contaminated food or water. Infected individuals are most contagious from approximately 2 weeks before symptoms begin until about 1 week after the appearance of jaundice.
HAV is usually spread from person to person by placing a contaminated object in the mouth, or by touching a contaminated surface and then placing fingers in the mouth. Many of these infections result from contact with a household member or sexual partner who has hepatitis A. Casual contact (for example, at work or at school ) does not spread the virus.

Infected food handlers who do not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom may contaminate food. Foods commonly implicated in the transmission of HAV include cold cuts, fruits and fruit juices, milk and milk products, vegetables, salads, raw shellfish (harvested from sewage contaminated water), and contaminated water.

How are Hepatitis A infections diagnosed and treated?

A blood test for a specific antibody called IgM anti-HAV is required to diagnose hepatitis A infection.
There is no medication or treatment that can effectively fight HAV infection. Most individuals will experience short-term illness and then recover completely. Rest and drinking plenty of fluids may be prescribed. Once recovered, an individual is immune and will not contract hepatitis A again.

Are there complications with Hepatitis A infections?

Most infected individuals will experience a short-term illness and then recover completely. About 15% of people infected with HAV will have prolonged or relapsing symptoms over a 6-9 month period.

How can Hepatitis A infection be prevented?

The following precautions can help prevent Hepatitis A infection:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing and eating food.
  • Individuals who are infected with hepatitis A should not prepare food or beverages.
  • Vaccination is the best protection against hepatitis A infection. Hepatitis A vaccine has been licensed in the United States for use in people 12 months of age and older. The vaccine is recommended (before exposure to hepatitis A virus) for individuals who are more likely to contract hepatitis A virus infection, or who are more likely to develop serious illness if they do get hepatitis A.
  • Immune globulin, a preparation of antibodies, can be given before exposure for short-term protection against hepatitis A and for individuals who have already been exposed to hepatitis A virus. Immune globulin must be given within 2 weeks after exposure to hepatitis A virus for maximum protection.

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The information contained on this page has been gathered from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other sources in the public domain.

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