Hepatitis A, a disease that heals on its own
It is one of the largest organs in our body and also one of the most different functions: the liver is responsible for eliminating toxic substances that circulate in our blood , storing and releasing glucose, processing nutrients and medicines, fighting against infections and secrete some hormones or other fundamental substances. In summary, we can say that it is like the body’s chemical factory and performs essential functions for life.
For our liver to be able to perform all these functions efficiently, it is essential that we lead healthy lifestyles that prevent chronic diseases such as cirrhosis, but also that we take the necessary precautions to keep viruses such as hepatitis A (HAV) away. This infectious agent infects liver cells – called hepatocytes – and causes them to become inflamed and destroyed.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral infection. Although highly contagious, it is not as serious as the other types of hepatitis (such as B or C). In addition, it occurs acutely – suddenly and with a short duration – and does not become chronic – it does not usually last more than six months. Fortunately, the symptoms are usually mild or, depending on the age of the person affected, there may not be them. Very rarely does a severe hepatitis develop, with high mortality.
Is it a very common disease?
In developing countries , especially in those where sanitary conditions and hygiene habits are poor, it is a fairly common disease, which affects children above all . In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) , 90% of children have suffered from this infection before the age of 10 in these countries. For this reason, adults are usually immunized.
On the other hand, in developed countries , isolated cases generally appear and it is a disease that affects more adolescents or adults who belong to risk groups . These include people who use intravenous drugs, gay men, and people who travel to destinations where the disease is more widespread, such as some countries in Asia, South or Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. Also, if you live or have sex with someone who is infected, you increase the risk of suffering from hepatitis A.
How is hepatitis A spread?
People with the infection of hepatitis A can transmit the virus for about two weeks before symptoms appear and for seven days afterward. But beware: patients with few or even no symptoms, such as infants and young children, can also transmit it.
The most common form of contagion in countries with poor sanitary conditions is transmission through contaminated food or water.
On the other hand, since the virus that causes hepatitis A is present in feces, poor hygiene conditions contribute to fecal-oral contamination between people ; that is, the one that occurs when someone touches their mouth after being in contact with the feces of a person suffering from the disease or when they touch a contaminated object, such as a toy or cutlery, with their mouth. That is, we can become infected if we change the diapers of a child with hepatitis A and then do not wash our hands well or if the person suffering from the infection does not take this hygiene measure after going to the bathroom.
On the other hand, in developed countries, where hygiene measures are more widespread, the most common route of contagion of the disease occurs in high-risk groups (such as drug users), through sexual contact with infected people or in the travelers to areas where the disease is endemic.
In addition, there are also occasional outbreaks caused by ingestion of contaminated food , such as the consumption of raw shellfish – clams, oysters … – that have grown in waters infected by the virus or contact in closed groups from asymptomatic people such as children children under two years of age who go to nurseries, since they generally do not present any symptoms and in these cases most infections occur in close and family contacts.
The good news is that, as this disease does not become chronic – unlike hepatitis B and C – chronic carriers of the virus have not been identified. On the other hand, the person with hepatitis A cannot spread the disease since one of its most characteristic symptoms appears, jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eye); Nor is this virus transmitted by breastfeeding.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Jaundice does not always appear with hepatitis A, as the type of symptoms and their severity in this disease can be very diverse. In fact, babies and young children – under 6 years old – may not present them or, in any case, very mildly. In contrast, older children and adults do tend to show more severe symptoms. In fact, 70% of them suffer from jaundice, according to the Spanish Association of Primary Care Pediatrics (AEPap).
Signs and symptoms usually appear within an average of four weeks after contact with the virus. In addition to jaundice , the most common are:
- Sudden fever , but not very high.
- General discomfort.
- Lack of appetite.
- Nausea and / or vomiting.
- Stomach pain and / or abdominal discomfort.
- Dark urine
- Clear stools
How is hepatitis A treated?
Since it is a disease that usually heals on its own in a period ranging from three to six months , hepatitis A is usually not treated. It is only necessary to monitor how the patient is progressing, to stay well hydrated, especially if he suffers from nausea and vomiting, and to follow a regular diet without very fatty foods. It is not even necessary to rest, except in the most acute period in which there is general discomfort, since it has not been proven that it contributes to the patient recovering earlier.
For this reason, you can go back to school or work after a week after the onset of jaundice (and the disease is no longer contagious). Similarly, in the case of younger children, they can return to nursery a week after the onset of the disease, as long as they do not have a fever and are well.
During illness, it is necessary to avoid substances toxic to the liver such as alcohol and some medications such as paracetamol.
Tips to prevent hepatitis A
1. Get vaccinated.
If you are traveling to a country where hepatitis A is endemic or you belong to a risk group (for example, if you live with a person with hepatitis A, work with young children or in a hospital or suffer from a chronic liver disease, among other recommendations), get vaccinated. The effectiveness of the vaccine against hepatitis A is almost 100%, as long as the two necessary doses are administered (the first, at least two weeks before the trip and the second, at six months). If a family member is already infected, several prevention guidelines can be administered to their relatives, depending on the age and characteristics of the people who live with the patient.
2. Extreme your hygiene.
If there is a case of hepatitis around you, it is more important than ever that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before cooking or eating.
3. Clean the toilet well.
If the disease has entered the home, you should also clean the toilet thoroughly and frequently to properly remove all fecal residue. It is also necessary to clean those surfaces of the home that are touched frequently.
4. When traveling, be careful about what you eat and drink.
When visiting countries where hepatitis A is endemic, do not eat salads or unpeeled fruits – do it yourself – or raw or undercooked fish and meat. Avoid unboxed water or drinks with ice cubes. When brushing your teeth, use bottled water as well.
5. Maintain certain precautions.
Since anal sexual contact is also a source of contagion, using prophylactics can reduce the risk of infection.