Hepatitis: All facts about disease

Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness. A person comes into contact with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) through contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person.

Hepatitis A viruses persist in the environment and can withstand food-production processes routinely used to inactivate and/or control bacterial pathogens.

In families, this may happen though dirty hands when an infected person prepares food for family members. Waterborne outbreaks, though infrequent, are usually associated with sewage-contaminated or inadequately treated water.

The virus can also be transmitted through close physical contact with an infectious person, although casual contact among people does not spread the virus.

Almost everyone recovers fully from hepatitis A with a lifelong immunity. However, a very small proportion of people infected with hepatitis A could die from fulminant hepatitis.

Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infection does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure), which is often fatal.

According to WHO, Hepatitis A occurs sporadically and in epidemics worldwide, with a tendency for cyclic recurrences. The hepatitis A virus is one of the most frequent causes of foodborne infection.

Epidemics related to contaminated food or water can erupt explosively, such as the epidemic in Shanghai in 1988 that affected about 3 lakh people, the UN health agency says.

The disease can affect communities significantly economic and socially, as patients take weeks or months to recover.

The disease occurs in developing countries with poor sanitary conditions and unhygienic practices.

The WHO says most children (90 per cent) have been infected with the hepatitis A virus before the age of 10 years.

As per WHO, the incubation period of hepatitis A is usually 14–28 days.

Symptoms of hepatitis A range from mild to severe, and can include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

However, symptoms varies from patients to patients.

Adults have signs and symptoms of illness more often than children. The severity of disease and fatal outcomes are higher in older age groups.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Patients should not be given unnecessary treatment. WHO says Acetaminophen/Paracetamol and medication against vomiting should be avoided.

Do not admit patient in hospital if there is no acute liver failure. Try to maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance for patients, which include replacement of fluids that are lost from vomiting and diarrhoea.

In May 2016, the World Health Assembly adopted the first “Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, 2016-2021”. It highlighted the critical role of Universal Health Coverage and the targets of the strategy are aligned with those of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Source: WHO

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