The current outbreak of Hepatitis A has been on the mind of most Americans as it seems to be getting progressively worse. According to experts, this outbreak is the worst epidemic in 20 years for the United States which could escalate as the infection has an incubation period of up to seven weeks.
This Hepatitis A outbreak was found to have started in San Diego which was spread to Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. According to the officials, the spread of the disease was propagated in the homeless community and jumped to the general population via people who come in contact with the public frequently. In this case, it was infected employees of West Jordan 7-Eleven, Spanish Fork Olive Garden and Spanish Fork Sonic Drive-In that accidentally spread the contagion.
Now, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘What is Hepatitis A and how do we protect ourselves and our families from getting infected?’ Well, before we delve into how to prevent and treat this infection, let’s get a better understand of Hepatitis A.
What Is Hepatitis A?
There are many Hepatitis infections, including Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. From these, the Hepatitis B and C are very dangerous and cause chronic liver disease in many of those who are infected.
Hepatitis A, on the other hand, has a low fatality rate with most people getting better and becoming immune for the rest of their lives. A few percentages, however, show signs of fulminant hepatitis which is the acute liver failure, which usually results in death.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Being Infected?
One thing about Hepatitis A you should be aware of is that the incubation period is typically between 2-7 weeks.
The signs and symptoms of this disease that you and your family should look out for include:
- Decline in appetite
- Abdominal aches
- Dark-colored pee (urine)
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
A low percentage of children have found to show signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A when compared to adults. According to a recent study, more than 70% of people who are infected with Hepatitis A develop jaundice, compared to 10% for children. For most people, once they are infected with Hepatitis A, their bodies build up a natural immunity to the disease, preventing getting infected again.
How Is Hepatitis A Spread?
If aren’t already aware, Hepatitis A is a very contagious infection which can be transmitted to anyone who has not been vaccinated before. However, if you have visited or live in an area where the virus is widespread, you should know the most common ways this virus can spread:
- Unclean or untreated water (read about Raw Water here)
- Lack of proper sanitation
- Using drugs (including non-injectables)
- Living or being in contact with someone who is infected
- Having sex with someone who has a case of acute Hepatitis A
- Sex between two males
- Going to places which are known to have Hepatitis A epidemics without being immunized.
How Is Hepatitis A Diagnosed And Treated?
It is difficult to distinguish by visual diagnosis which Hepatitis virus a person has. To find out if you have Hepatitis A, your doctor will ask you to do a blood test that detects the HAV-specific Immunoglobulin G (IgM) antibodies in your blood. Further tests may also be asked of you to check for other viruses including the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) which may require specialized labs.
For those who have Hepatitis A, all they can do is speed up their recovery, which can take weeks or even months. Some medications like Paracetamol may be prescribed for symptoms like vomiting but you can only wait and recover through Hepatitis A. And regarding hospitalization, unless it’s a case of acute liver failure, it’s not needed (for most cases).
What To Do If Are Infected With Hepatitis A?
Firstly, you need to be sure that you or a family member is sick with Hepatitis A by testing for the virus. If you do indeed have the virus, you need to get vaccinated immediately within the first two weeks of being exposed to the virus. You should also talk to your doctor and show them the results of the blood tests to confirm your exposure. You can also contact the Communicable Disease Control Unit at (415) 554-2830.
What’s In The Hepatitis A Vaccine?
Each Hepatitis A vaccine contains an inactive (killed) virus that needs to be administered with two doses over six months for long-term protection. In the United States, children are usually vaccinated when they are babies, but the vaccine is available to everyone who has yet to be vaccinated.
According to the officials, you should let your doctor know if you have a mild or severe illness, are pregnant, or are prone to severe or life-threatening allergies. If you have a mild illness, you should be okay to get the vaccine, but if the illness is severe, your doctor might suggest that you recover before getting vaccinated.
Another case where the doctor might suggest against vaccination is if you have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous Hepatitis A vaccine. Pregnancy may also be a reason your doctor may advise you to not go through the vaccination because the risk to the baby has not been determined, though it is thought to be very low.
Should You And Your Family Get Vaccinated?
The Hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended in the country since 1996 which has led to the cases of Hepatitis A to go from an average of 31,000 to 1,500 every year. If you are someone who is traveling to places where Hepatitis A is active, its suggested that you get vaccinated if you haven’t already been vaccinated.
So, if you and your family live in or are traveling to an area that has Hepatitis A, we recommend you talk to your doctor and protect your family from this highly contagious disease.