Hepatitis A is a viral infection which targets the liver. When the virus infects a person, it causes damage to the liver. Hepatitis A infections can cause significant illness, but generally only in the short term. Typical hepatitis A infections last between one and two months. Unlike many of the other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A is spread via contaminated water and food.
There are approximately half a dozen major viruses which can cause hepatitis. They are given very creative names such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and even D, E, and G. Most of the hepatitis viruses that are not A are spread by sexual contact and exposure to contaminated blood. In contrast, hepatitis A is found in contaminated water and food.
It is quite common to find hepatitis A in areas which have poor sanitation and overcrowded living conditions. Outbreaks can often happen in areas which have experienced a natural disaster. The spread of hepatitis A is also quite common amongst school-age children, who often share cups and eating utensils.
In 1995 a vaccine was developed to protect against hepatitis A. This vaccination has now become quite common in America. Because of this vaccination, the incidence of hepatitis A spread in America has dropped approximately 75%.
Hepatitis A has a long incubation period. It can often take up to 30 days after exposure for a person to experience symptoms of a hepatitis A infection. This make the spread of hepatitis A within a population very easy. It is often difficult to determine who the source of the infection was. By the time someone experiences symptoms, the initial source of the infection is long gone.
Fortunately, hepatitis A infections rarely become chronic. Recovery usually takes four to eight weeks in most cases. People who have compromised immune systems, the elderly, and children may experience more significant symptoms and are at greater risk for the spread of hepatitis A.
Preventing the spread of hepatitis A involves proper sanitation. Washing your hands after going to the bathroom is a key element in preventing the spread of hepatitis A. Washing contaminated utensils, clothing, and bedding is also a key element in preventing the spread of the virus. This is especially important around people who are either known to be infected or are suspected to be.
There is a treatment which can be used to prevent the spread of hepatitis A amongst a group of people who are known to be exposed to the virus. Doctors can give an injection known as an immunoglobulin to people who are exposed to a person who is known to be infected with hepatitis A. Typically, an entire family will be treated this way if one person is found to be infected. This can reduce the risk of spread of hepatitis A to other members of the family.
If you have any other questions about the spread of hepatitis A or your risk for getting it, be sure to talk to your doctor. Hepatitis A is easily spread, but it is also easily prevented if simple steps are taken to ensure proper sanitation and cleanliness.