Among the 7 known types of hepatitis viruses, Hepatitis A is the most common.
With Hepatitis A infection, the liver is inflamed but generally patients recover without problems. Complications are rare.
Spread of Hepatitis A
The virus that causes hepatitis A (HAV) is excreted in the feces of people who are infected with the virus. The infectious dose of HAV is tiny and only a small amount of virus need to be ingested to the digestive tract for infection to occur. Most of the time, careful hand washing, especially after visiting the toilet is usually all that is needed to limit the spread of HAV.
The reason HAV is classified as a sexually transmitted disease is because it can and is often passed on sexually, especially during activities such as anilingus (rimming). The washing of genital and anal areas prior to sex minimises transmission via this route.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
HAV infects all age groups and once infected, it takes from 2 to 6 weeks to produce symptoms. In some cases, patients who are infected show no symptoms at all. However, those that have symptoms have:
- Myalgia, malaise, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Loss of appetite and loss of weight
- Abdominal pain
The infection clears up in about 2 months but can often recur or persist longer in some people. However, once the infection is cleared, the patient is subsequently immune to the virus. Occasionally, some people experience severe symptoms and need monitoring in the hospital.
Treatment for HAV is supportive, based on symptoms and there is no specific treatment for HAV.
Prevention of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A immunisation requires 2 injections. The first injection provides protection for a year.
The second booster at 6 to 12 months extends protection for up to 10 years.
The vaccine is recommended for young children living in areas with high incidence of hepatitis A, or anyone travelling to countries where hepatitis A is endemic. In addition, immunisation may be recommended for people whose sexual practices are likely to put them at risk. Immunisation may also be recommended to prevent hepatitis A developing if a person suspects they have been exposed to the virus.
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