Hepatitis A

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In last week’s article we mentioned Hepatitis A as one the potential causes of Liver Failure. Hepatitis A is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver and results in mild or severe and potentially life-threatening disease.

The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. Infection is common in low- and middle-income countries with poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices, and most children (90%) have been infected with the hepatitis A virus before the age of 10 years, most often without symptoms. Infection rates are low in high-income countries with good sanitary and hygienic conditions.

Outbreaks have been known to happen due to sewage contaminated water or properly treated water supply.

The symptoms of this condition can range from very mild to severe symptoms. Some people may have been infected without experiencing any symptoms at all, this is common in children. The symptoms include; fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin). when very severe it can lead to acute liver failure, with symptom thereof. These can include confusion, coma and bleeding.

Hepatitis A can be suspected when individuals present with any of the above symptoms and deranged liver tests. The diagnosis is made by doing a blood tests that confirms the presence of the virus or antibodies against the virus.  Some of these tests may need to be performed in laboratories with specialised equipment.

Once a diagnosis has been made then supportive therapy is offered. There is no specific treatment for this condition. We often treat the symptoms that are present and allow the patient to recover. Often hospital admission is not necessary unless the patient has liver failure.

It is best to prevent people from getting this condition. Those that have had a prior infection have natural immunity and are protected for life. Individuals who have not had Hepatitis A in the past and are at risk should be vaccinated.

Other effective ways of reducing the spread of Hepatitis A include improving sanitation by providing adequate supplies of safe drinking water, proper disposal of sewage within communities; and personal hygiene practices such as regular handwashing before meals and after going to the bathroom.

In general, this condition which usually causes mild disease but can be life-threatening in rare cases can be prevented by improving sanitation. It is important for those at risk to get vaccinated as well.

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