Infection with hepatitis A is often caused by contaminated drinking water or contaminated food. However, as the infection only shows nonspecific symptoms, it often goes unnoticed. First signs can be general symptoms of illness such as loss of appetite, headache and an increase in body temperature. There is no specific treatment for the virus. However, if an infection is present, it is important to protect the liver and to abstain from alcohol, for example. The best way to prevent infection is the hepatitis A vaccine.
Infection with hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is an acute hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus of the same name. Since the virus reacts relatively insensitive to disinfectants and cold, it can easily spread. It occurs worldwide, but is most prevalent in warm, tropical areas and in countries with low hygienic standards.
However, areas with an increased risk of infection include not only countries in Africa, Asia and South America, but also Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is therefore quite possible to get infected during summer holidays in Italy or Spain. Anyone who has once been infected with the virus is protected for life from the pathogen. You can only get hepatitis A once in your life.
Transmission of the virus takes place through a fecal-oral infection. This means that the infection takes place via viruses that are excreted with the stool and then resumed via the mouth. Diseased persons excrete the pathogens already two weeks before the first disease symptoms appear, with urine and stool and are therefore already contagious.
The infection can happen on the one hand by a smear infection in which objects are touched, which are contaminated with pathogens. If you then grasp the face - especially on the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose - the pathogens can enter the body. On the other hand, the transmission can take place through contaminated drinking water or contaminated food.
In addition to these infection routes, infection via blood and blood products is also possible. For example, drug addicts may also be infected by syringes used several times. However, a transfer in this way is rarely the case.
Hepatitis A: First signs
The first signs of hepatitis A infection are noticeable about two to seven weeks after infection. First, there are nonspecific symptoms such as an increase in body temperature, loss of appetite, headache, itching and gastrointestinal complaints such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It can also cause pain in the right upper abdomen. In some cases, however, no or very weak symptoms occur, so that the disease goes unnoticed.
Jaundice as a symptom
In the further course of a hepatitis A disease can then form the typical symptoms of jaundice. The inside of the eye and the skin turn yellowish. In addition, the color of the chair can be lighter, the urine darker. In addition, spleen enlarges significantly in some patients. Jaundice generally indicates that there is damage to the liver.
In individuals with certain pre-existing conditions, the infection can lead to severe impairment of liver function. This is especially true for patients with a chronic hepatitis B or C infection as well as an already damaged liver. In the worst case, they may need a liver transplant.
Diagnosis by blood test
To determine if there is an infection with the hepatitis A virus, a blood test is performed. In particular, changes in liver enzymes such as bilirubin, gamma-GT, GOT or GPT are of importance. However, it is not possible to be certain that a hepatitis A infection really exists until specific antibodies against the virus have been detected in the patient's blood. In addition, it is also possible to detect parts of the virus or genetic material in the stool. However, this method is rarely used today.
Hepatitis A is a reportable disease. This means that the doctor must report to the regional health department in case of suspicion, proof of illness and death of the patient. The health authorities then forward the data to the Robert Koch Institute, where it is collected and evaluated.
Treatment of the disease
A special treatment for the fight against the hepatitis A virus does not exist so far. Unlike hepatitis B and C, the disease usually heals on its own within a few weeks and never becomes chronic. Even severe complications are rare, but can occur especially in adults. It can cause inflammation of the pancreas, the heart muscle and the lungs. These inflammations may be life threatening.
In an acute infection, it is important to protect the liver as much as possible. Do not use alcohol because it puts a heavy strain on the liver. Likewise, you should as possible take no medication. If medication is absolutely necessary, you should consult your doctor beforehand. As part of the daily diet, it is advisable to abstain from very fatty foods for the duration of the disease.
If you have been infected with the virus, careful hygiene is important to prevent transmission of the virus to other people. If possible, use your own toilet or wash your hands thoroughly, at least after each use of the toilet. Schools or other community facilities may not be visited until there is no risk of infection.
Beware of uncooked foods
In countries with low standards of hygiene and an increased risk of hepatitis A infection, you should follow some basic rules in your diet to prevent infection with the hepatitis A virus.
- Drink only boiled tap water or water from packaged, unopened bottles. Also, use only water for brushing your teeth and take care when showering that you will not get water in your mouth.
- Avoid ice cubes in drinks. Ice cream should not be eaten for safety reasons.
- Avoid uncooked foods such as lettuce, fruits or vegetables, unless you can peel the appropriate foods.
- Do not eat raw or undercooked seafood.
Vaccination provides safe protection
However, the safest way to prevent hepatitis A infection is vaccination. Hepatitis A requires two injections every six months or so. After that one is protected for at least twelve years. A refresher of the vaccine protection should take place at the earliest after ten years.
The hepatitis A vaccine is generally considered to be well tolerated. In part, harmless side effects such as swelling and redness may occur at the injection site. In addition, general symptoms of illness such as fatigue or gastrointestinal complaints may be noticeable. More information about the hepatitis A vaccine can be found here.