Hepatitis A: What You Need to Know
Hepatitis A – What is it and how do you get it?
It’s easy to get confused about hepatitis. There are numerous types of hepatitis, but the three most common are:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects the liver. The patient experiences flu-like symptoms, including nausea, fatigue, fever, stomach pain, loss of appetite, dark urine, pale stool and jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes).
Hepatitis A is spread by direct contact with an infected person, including fecal-oral (if someone hasn’t washed their hands after using the bathroom) or sexual contact. The onset of symptoms occurs two to seven weeks after initial exposure, but typically patients show symptoms within four weeks. There is no treatment for Hepatitis A since it is viral, but rest, fluids and nutritious foods are recommended.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are infections that are transmitted via sex or blood. These illnesses are oftentimes related to IV drug use and can cause chronic infections that can develop into liver failure or cancer.
Hepatitis A: Who Is At Risk?
Since 2012, the incidence of Hepatitis A has increased in the United States. Locally, Kentucky has also seen a significant outbreak of Hepatitis A since late 2017. There are two effective ways to combat the increase in Hepatitis A cases: vaccinations and maintaining high standards of hygiene and sanitation.
Dr. Patrick Kunkler, a Family Medicine physician at St. Elizabeth Business Health with Certification in Travel Health, offers the following tips for preventing infection:
- Diligent hand-washing – After using the bathroom or changing a diaper, you should wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds – including under the nails – before rinsing.
- Clean food and utensils – Make sure all foods and utensils are washed and cleaned prior to consuming or using. The Hepatitis A virus can live on food or surfaces for months.
- Use high heat while preparing food – Cook foods at 185 degrees F (85 degrees C) for one minute to kill the Hepatitis A virus.
- Avoid raw or undercooked foods – When in doubt, give it extra time.
- Avoid contamination after cooking – Keep your prep and eating areas separate to avoid contamination.
“This recent outbreak with severe infections and fatalities really demonstrates the importance of preventing the disease and getting vaccinated,” says Dr. Kunkler. “Good habits can start early. Teach your children to thoroughly wash their hands each time they use the bathroom, walk into the house or prepare to eat a meal.”
Hepatitis A: Who Needs the Vaccine?
Does everyone need a vaccine or just those at higher risk for infection?
According to Dr. John LaCount, Pediatrician at St. Elizabeth Pediatrics, everyone needs to be vaccinated. The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for children at 15 months of age with a booster shot at age two.
“Children are protected once they have received the Hepatitis A vaccine,” says Dr. LaCount. “Most schools require both doses of the vaccine prior to a child starting school. We encourage our families to double-check that your child’s vaccination schedule is up-to-date, especially in light of the current outbreak in the Kentucky area.”
For more information on Hepatitis A or to schedule a pediatric appointment for your child, please call St. Elizabeth Physicians (800) 737-7900 or visit St. Elizabeth Pediatrics.