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The Cardiologist's Wife - Hepatitis A - What You Need To Know
Aug 01, 2019

Northeast Arkansas has been plagued with outbreaks of hepatitis A in recent months. Usually the reports stem from cases found at area restaurants and health officials have been recommending that patrons of these restaurants get vaccinated. But what is hepatitis A, how do you get it, how does it affect you and what are the symptoms? Do you really need to get a vaccine? Here’s what you need to know.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by a virus. There are several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation in your liver and affect its ability to function; some are more serious than others. Fortunately hepatitis A does not cause long term liver damage nor become chronic. People contract hepatitis A from eating food or water contaminated with fecal matter (thus the restaurant connection), eating shellfish from water polluted with sewage or from coming into close contact with an infected person. The virus isn’t spread through sneezing or coughing. The best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis is to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently especially after using the restroom.

The symptoms don’t usually appear until you’ve had the virus for several weeks though not everyone develops them. The symptoms include: fatigue, sudden nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort - particularly on the upper right side beneath your ribs, clay colored bowel movements, loss of appetite, low grade fever, dark urine, joint pain, yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes and intense itching. The symptoms may be mild and go away in a few weeks. Rarely, hepatitis A can cause sudden liver failure and turn into a severe illness that lasts several months but this usually occurs in those over 50 or who have another liver disease.

You can get a vaccine within two weeks of exposure that may protect you from infection or you can take a drug called immune globulin which provides powerful but temporary protection for those exposed to hepatitis A. Talk to your doctor if you have eaten at a restaurant that reports a hepatitis A outbreak, have traveled out of the country to areas with poor sanitation, someone close to you such as a family member has hepatitis A or you have had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A. You may want to get the vaccine before traveling to places where hepatitis outbreaks occur frequently or where sanitation is an issue.

Some additional safety precautions include washing your hands after changing a diaper and before preparing food or eating. When traveling to parts of the world where sanitation is an issue, wash and peel all fresh fruits and vegetables yourself, don’t eat raw or undercooked meat and fish, drink bottled water and use it when brushing your teeth, avoid other beverages with unknown ingredients, with or without ice.

The good news is that if you have hepatitis A, you develop antibodies that protect you for life. The same is true after receiving the vaccine as long as both doses of the vaccine were administered within 6 to 12 months.

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