Hepatitis A: The Type A Personality

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • What is Hepatitis A?
  • Who is at risk for this disease?
  • What are symptoms and treatments?

Hepatitis is a common disease that affects and damages the liver and may lead to cancer. There are several forms of the hepatitis viruses. Five of them cause disease while another seems to cause no illness at all. This installment of the SharpHealth’s series on hepatitis focuses on "Hepatitis A."

The Facts on Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A (also referred to as HAV) is a highly contagious form of viral hepatitis that only lives in humans. It’s pretty common. HAV accounts for 25 percent of all reported cases of hepatitis in the United States. About 200,000 new cases are reported every year, with nearly 100 people dying from HAV annually.

That’s pretty high.

Essentially, HAV gets in the way of your liver’s function of filtering impurities from the body. This inability to effectively "clean out" prevents the body from functioning in top form, and eventually becomes debilitating. This often leads to jaundice, a yellowing of the whites of eyes and in Caucasians, evident yellowing of the skin.

Once a body has been infected, the virus incubates for a period of 15 to 40 days. An infected SharpMan is most contagious during the two to six week period before the symptoms are visible and for the eight days after the onset of jaundice. The bottom line? As with many serious conditions, you have the ability to unknowingly infect others even before you begin to feel ill.

How Can You Get HAV?

HAV is usually transmitted through infected food, infected water and close person-to-person contact. The disease is widespread, and can be found in both day care centers (think of all those diapers) and prisons (i.e., next time you visit one, think "hand-washing").

Food. You can get HAV by eating raw seafood (clams, oysters or mussels) that previously inhabited polluted waters. Similarly, other food (uncooked fruits and vegetables), water and milk products that have not been properly cleansed (cooked, purified or pasteurized) can also be a source of transmission. In some eating establishments that do not follow health department code, HAV has been know to spread from infected food handlers to restaurant patrons. Your best bet? Make a point of eating at restaurants — whether "dives" or Michelin Four-Star — that abide by local health department codes.

Environment. For surfer or water-bound SharpMen, spending time in ocean water immediately after a significant storm may result in exposure to HAV. Why? Frequently after a large rainfall, urban sewage treatment facilities are unable to process the amount of new storm water. Many times this results in the "dumping" of untreated water (i.e., with human fecal matter) into local ocean water. A surfer’s best bet? Despite the great waves, keep out of the water for 24-48 hours after a storm to allow local sewage treatment plants to "catch up" and the ocean water to dilute any dumping.

Blood Products. HAV is spread by blood, as well. This means that HAV infection is a risk when one receives a transfusion of blood products that are contaminated with HAV or uses needles that have not been properly sterilized (i.e., "dirty needles"). Note: The American Red Cross and other American blood product providers stringently screen for all forms of Hepatitis and other blood-born viruses.

In addition, HAV infection is increasing among patients who test positive for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Does this mean SharpMen should stay away from hemophiliacs and people who test positive for HIV? Of course not. However, as with any blood-born virus, safe sex and vigilance when it comes to emergency blood product use (i.e., when traveling to developing countries) is your number one precaution.

HAV Symptoms and Diagnosis

Another great method of protecting yourself from HAV is becoming familiar with the symptoms associated with this condition. Among these are:

- tenderness in the right upper part of your abdomen
- jaundice
- fever
- loss of appetite
- stomach aches
- dark urine
- clay-colored stools
- flu-like symptoms

Diagnosis is confirmed by testing the blood for the virus antibody.

Treatments for HAV

Traditional methods of treating advanced cases of HAV can be severe. Twenty-two percent of infected SharpMen treated for HAV are hospitalized. Most treatment courses usually include three weeks to six months of bed rest. Talk about a telecommuting opportunity!

Exposure to HAV is often treated with two doses of the vaccine Havrix, given six months apart. This protects you for a period of three years.
Other remedy options include:

Nutritional Therapy. Doctors prescribe drinking about a gallon of fruit juices, water and other liquids per day. To combat the loss of appetite, small, high-calorie, high-protein meals and nutritional supplements are recommended.

Natural Remedies. Although not necessarily recommended by medical practitioners, natural remedies have been known to effectively treat SharpMen who contract HAV. While many people swear by these remedies, many western medical doctors tend to swear at them. It is a good idea to check with your physician before using any of these:

- drink the juice of half of one lemon in eight ounces of water every
morning.

- take three glasses of water with two teaspoonfuls apple cider vinegar and
two teaspoonfuls raw honey per day.

Sharp Prevention of HAV

Luckily, there are several ways to arm yourself against HAV infection. Most are pretty simple:

Scrub, scrub, scrub. Before and after using the restroom and before every meal, wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least fifteen seconds.

Wash, peel, cook. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables in clean water or peel them, before eating. Heat kills HAV, so whenever in doubt, cook foods at a temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Clean,clean, clean. Dirty utensils, plates and cutting boards often spread the disease. Sure, dirty dishes may be your way of life, but they can also be your ticket to a long vacation. Think soap; think chlorine. Chlorine bleach kills HAV. A solution of two teaspoons chlorine bleach to one-quart tap water will render HAV inactive. If you have a dishwasher, stack the dishes and turn it on. All modern dishwashers heat their wash water to at least 185 degrees.

Travel,but travel smart. Before traveling to countries where there may be unsanitary living conditions, doctors recommend injections of gamma globulin (antibodies derived from the human blood) to "vaccinate" you against HAV. Remember, even the best hotels, including international chains, and the finest restaurants often get their food from local sources.

Frequently travelers who require medical attention are exposed to previously-used needles. As an added measure of protection, consider traveling to developing nations with your own clean needle and syringe. Note: When traveling to some countries, this may require a doctor’s prescription.

Play, but play smart. Always practice safe sex, particularly when traveling.

More HAV Info

The following information sources provide additional details about prevention and treatment of HAV and related hepatitis strains:

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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