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Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)

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The OSDH Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service provides hepatitis B & C prevention activities, including but not limited to, education, vaccination and Perinatal hepatitis B prevention activities.


What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver.  The liver processes  nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections.  When the liver is inflamed or damaged, how it works can be impacted.

Hepatitis A Virus

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. There is a vaccine which can be taken for the prevention of Hepatitis A virus. People who get infected with HAV are able to clear the virus from their system within a few weeks to several months and do not usually have lasting liver damage.

Transmission

The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and the blood of people who are infected with the hepatitis A virus. HAV is usually spread when an individual who is not infected with the virus ingests the virus through the following ways:

  • Person to person contact: HAV can be spread through close personal contact with someone who is infected with the virus. This kind of contact includes having sex with an infected person (especially anal sex), caring for someone who is ill or using drugs with others. It is very contagious and individuals can spread the virus even before they fall sick.
  • Eating contaminated food or drink is another way whereby one can get infected with the hepatitis A virus. Food can get contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus at any point, during the growing, harvesting, processing or handling process. It can even get contaminated after cooking. It is more common to see food and water contamination with the virus in areas of the world where the hepatitis A virus is common. In the United States, it is uncommon for individuals to be infected with HAV but it has happened when people consumed fresh and frozen food products that were imported.

Vaccination for HAV

The hepatitis A virus can be prevented with  a safe and effective vaccine. This vaccine consists of a series of shots that typically consists of 2 shots that are given 6 months apart. It is important to get both shots because that will provide the best protection against infection with the hepatitis A virus.

The vaccine is recommended for the following groups of people:

  • All children at the age of 1 year
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Family or caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • People who use or inject drugs (PWID)
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • People with clotting factor disorders
  • People with direct contact with others who have HAV
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People who have HIV

The practice of good hygiene is important in the prevention of hepatitis A virus. This practice can be as simple as practicing thorough hand washing techniques with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food. This is very important in preventing hepatitis A virus infection.

Symptoms                  

Yellow skin or eyes  Diarrhea
Fever Vomiting
Lack of appetite Tiredness
Dark urine or light colored stools Joint pain
Upset stomach Stomach pain

Diagnosis

Based on discussions with a doctor on signs and symptoms, the doctor would take a sample and run tests. The test run detects antibodies in the blood produced by the immune system of the individual in response to the hepatitis A infection. The doctor would also check for high levels of liver enzymes in the blood.

Treatment

While there is no treatment for the hepatitis A virus, doctors typically would treat the symptoms that an individual exhibits. This is called supportive therapy. They would also carry out periodic tests to see how a person's liver is fairing and so that they are sure that the body is healing like it should. Doctors would usually recommend rest and adequate nutrition and fluids.

Travel and HAV

Before travelling to a region with high prevalence of HAV, it is advised that you talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated with the hepatitis A vaccination before you travel. People travelling to urban areas, resorts, and luxurious hotels in places where hepatitis A is common are still at risk. In fact, there have been reports of infection occurring among people who reportedly washed their hands regularly and were careful about what they ate and drank.

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