Hepatitis A is a great example of why it is so important to wash your hands. Someone infected with the disease can transmit the virus to others via contaminated food or water or by direct contact if good hygiene is not practiced. Complicating matters is the fact the infected person will be contagious for at least a couple of weeks before they are aware they have the disease. If their personal hygiene is poor, meaning, if they get the virus on their hands after using the bathroom, neglect to wash their hands and then handle food that others will eat, they can easily infect many people before they become ill.
The hepatitis A virus (HAV), found in the stool and blood of an infected person, causes an infectious disease of the liver. Some of the symptoms of hepatitis A are jaundice (yellow skin), dark urine, pale or clay-colored stools, fatigue, nausea, stomach pain and poor appetite. A physical examination for any tenderness, a thorough investigation of symptoms, blood tests and a medical history are all usually part of any visit to the doctor for diagnosis. The doctor will also want to know if you have been exposed to hepatitis A or if you have been traveling.
There are no specific medications to treat hepatitis A. Rest and avoiding vigorous exercise is recommended. One may need to take an absence from school or work if performing those activities requires too much energy. It is important to try to eat a balanced diet during this period and to drink plenty of fluids. Because of the gastrointestinal upsets with this virus, sometimes eating several small meals a day is better than three large ones. Because the liver is where substances are broken down, it is important to avoid those things that are toxic to it, such as alcohol. Even Tylenol, which may seem benign, can cause serious damage to the liver if not taken properly. Consult with your health care provider before taking or stopping any medication if you have hepatitis. Symptoms last an average of two to six months.
The greatest control measure in preventing the transmission and spread of this disease is for people to wash their hands. This does require vigilance on an individual’s part — particularly those who work in day care centers with all of the frequent diaper changes. Speak to your physician about receiving the hepatitis A vaccine to avoid this disease. If you have been exposed, an injection of immune globulin (IG) given within two weeks may prevent you from getting hepatitis A.
Written by Betty Tryon, B. S. N.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult with your physician if you have questions regarding this topic.