Overview

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is among various hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect the ability of the liver to function.

Certain people have a mild illness that lasts for a few weeks, while others experience a more severe illness that can last for months. Those with mild cases do not require treatment, and the majority of the people infected with HAV recover fully with no permanent liver damage. HAV is caused by eating or drinking water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus, or close contact with an infectious person.

According to the World Health Organization, developing countries with poor hygienic practices and sanitary conditions have high levels of HAV infection.

A study conducted by researchers from KEMRI and different universities in Kenya  to substantiate the prevalence of hepatitis A to E involved 389 patients with jaundice at 4 hospitals. They are Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Coast General Hospital, and New Nyanza Provincial General Hospital in Kisumu in 2017.

Blood samples from the patients were collected and tested for mild and chronic hepatitis A to E viruses. The study found that 6.3% of the total group of patients was infected with hepatitis A. Kisumu had 9.2%, Nairobi 6.3%, and Mombasa had 5.0%.

Symptoms

A person with hepatitis A infection has inflammation in his or her liver that is caused by an HA virus. A person with hepatitis A does not always get symptoms, but when they do, you might have:

  • Pain in the belly
  • Jaundice (Yellow eyes and skin, dark urine)
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Clay-colored bowel movement
  • Dark urine
  • Sudden vomiting

You can spread the hepatitis A virus about 2 weeks before the symptoms appear, and you might show no symptoms at all.

Causes

Some of the specific ways the hepatitis A virus can spread include:

  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Eating food handled by an infected person who does not wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet
  • Eating raw shellfish from water contaminated with sewage
  • Having sex with someone who has HAV virus
  • Being in close contact with a person who is infected even if there are no symptoms

Risk Factors

Any person who has not been vaccinated or formerly infected can get infected with HAV. In high endemic areas, most hepatitis A infections occur during early childhood. Risk factors in intermediate and high endemicity areas include:

  • Lack of safe water
  • Poor sanitation
  • Use of recreational drugs
  • Being a sexual partner to an infected person
  • Living in a household with an infected person
  • Travelling to regions of high endemicity without being immunized
  • Are HIV positive
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Homosexuals practicing man to man sex

Diagnosis

Cases of hepatitis A are similar to other types of acute viral hepatitis. Specific diagnosis is done through a blood test aimed to detect HAV-specific Immunoglobulin G (IgM) antibodies in the bloodstream. 

Additional tests may include reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect the hepatitis A virus RNA although this may call for specialized laboratory facilities.

Treatment

Hepatitis A normally improves in a few weeks without treatment. Nevertheless, some individuals can have symptoms for about 6 months.

In such cases, doctors suggest medicines to help relieve the symptoms. Talk with the doctor before you take prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Once you have the symptoms and are put under medication, see the doctor frequently to ensure your body recovers fully. If the symptoms persist after six months, then your doctor will have to change medication.

When you recover from this illness, your body will have developed mechanisms to fight off a future hepatitis A infection. However, you can still contact other types of hepatitis viruses.

During the process, the doctor will advise you to get enough rest, manage nausea, and avoid alcohol and use medications with extreme care

Prevention

The ultimate prevention for hepatitis A infection is through being vaccinated by hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccine is normally given in two shots where the first one is followed by a booster shot six months later.

Those who are highly in need of hepatitis A vaccine include:

  • Anyone aged 1 year or older experiencing homelessness
  • All children at the age of 1 or older children who were not vaccinated at their childhood
  • Infants aged 6 to 11 months traveling overseas
  • Laboratory workers who may come in contact with HAV
  • Caregivers and family of adoptees from countries where HAV is common
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Individuals with clotting-factor disorders
  • Individuals who use any illegal drugs, not just the injected ones
  • Individuals with chronic liver disease including other types of viral hepatitis
  • Any person who wishes to obtain protection (immunity)

Lifestyle and Home Remedies for Infected Persons

  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet and changing diapers
  • Avoid sexual activities if you have hepatitis A to safeguard your partner and vice versa
  • Do not prepare food for others if you are actively infected

For more information on treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.

Sources

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-a

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4774020/

https://theconversation.com/mapping-hepatitis-in-kenya-shows-where-action-is-needed-81768

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-a/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20367055