What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, and poor personal hygiene.



Who is impacted?


Anyone who has not been vaccinated or previously infected can become infected with the hepatitis A virus. In areas where the virus is widespread, most hepatitis A infections occur during early childhood. Risk factors in these areas include:


  • Poor sanitation
  • Lack of safe water
  • Use of recreational drugs
  • Living with an infected individual
  • Sexually active with an individual who has an acute hepatitis A infection
  • Travelling to areas where the hepatitis A virus is widespread



How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?


Cases of hepatitis A are not clinically distinguishable from other types of acute viral hepatitis. Specific diagnosis is made by the detection of HAV-specific Immunoglobulin G (IgM) antibodies in the blood. Additional tests include reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect the hepatitis A virus RNA, and may require specialized laboratory facilities.


How is Hepatitis A treated?


There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Recovery from symptoms following infection may be slow and may take several weeks or months. Most important is the avoidance of unnecessary medications. Acetaminophen / Paracetamol and medication against vomiting should not be given.

Hospitalization is unnecessary in the absence of acute liver failure. Therapy is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids that are lost from vomiting and diarrhea.