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     Volume 4 Issue 23 | December 3, 2004 |

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Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A and how could I get it?
Hepatitis A is a potentially serious disease caused by a virus which attacks the liver. Anyone can get it. The virus is transmitted through contaminated food, such as raw or insufficiently cooked seafood and shellfish, and contaminated water. It can be passed by someone infected with the virus who doesn't wash his/her hands properly after a bowel movement and then touches something you eat.

The Hepatitis A virus is shed in the stools of an infected person during the incubation period of 15 to 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness. Blood and other bodily secretions may also be infectious.

The virus does not remain in the body after the infection has resolved, and there is no carrier state (i.e., a person who spreads the disease to others but does not become ill).

What are some of the symptoms?
Most patients suffer flu-like symptoms including weakness, headache and fever. Other symptoms may include stomach cramps, diarrhoea and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. This is because the liver is not able to filter bilirubin, a product of haemoglobin which is usually measured to screen for or to monitor liver or gall bladder dysfunction. These symptoms can last for several weeks and hospitalisation may be required.

Institutions and facilities involving close contact with people may be more susceptible to rapid transmission of Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A will eventually run its course, and once you've had the virus, you develop a lifelong immunity to it. Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, there are no long-term consequences of having had hepatitis A such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. However, for people with chronic liver disease such as hepatitis C, infection with another virus such as hepatitis A can be a serious health risk. People with hepatitis C are encouraged to be vaccinated against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, as are other patients with chronic liver diseases.

Adults develop more severe symptoms as a result of hepatitis A, while young children may not show any outward signs of infection apart from feeling "unwell." Death is rare but may occur in up to three per cent of older people, usually with acute liver failure.

How do I prevent myself from getting Hepatitis A
Transmission of the virus can be reduced by avoiding unclean food and water, through hand washing after using the restroom, and through cleansing if there is any contact with an affected person's blood, faeces, or any other bodily fluid.

Through hand washing and good hygienic practices before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom can help prevent institutional outbreaks.

Is there a treatment for hepatitis A?
There is no treatment available for hepatitis A. Like many viral infections, it will naturally run its course. However, there is a vaccine that easily and effectively protects you from hepatitis A. Vaccination is recommended at any time. The vaccine will prevent you from contracting hepatitis A while travelling, and from being a potential domestic source of the virus when you return.

Sources: www.liver.ca and Yahoo health

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