The term hepatitis is broadly used to refer to inflammation of the liver that can be caused due to infectious or non-infectious factors. Hepatitis A is an infectious viral disease that is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), which is a contagious disease causing inflammation of the liver and liver dysfunction. The HAV spreads through contaminated food and water and poorly maintained hygiene, spreading from close contact with an infected person.
Hepatitis A does not cause a chronic infection and almost always gets completely cured without leaving any long term effects or damage. Once contracted, a person becomes immune from HAV for life.
Since the virus spreads through the faecal-oral route and through contamination of food and water, it surfaces in epidemics, mostly in third-world countries in areas that have poor sanitation. However, the virus is found worldwide and is one of the most common causes of diseases spreading via contaminated food.
HAV outbreaks have been reported in Thailand along the border of Myanmar. However, regular vaccination drives have reduced the occurrence of the disease as an epidemic. Myanmar is still considered an area with an intermediate level of spread of HAV infection. Proper vaccination and maintaining personal hygiene is advised.
Hepatitis A has an incubation period of about two to six weeks, once it enters the human body through the mouth or gut and settles in the liver. A person who has contracted the virus will start showing symptoms only 14 to 28 days later. Some of the common symptoms include,
- Nausea, vomiting and fatigue
- Pain in the liver area (beneath the lower ribs) and the abdominal region
- Loss of appetite
- Dark coloured urine and clay coloured bowels
- Jaundice-like yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Aching joints
Hepatitis A causes mild to severe symptoms, depending upon the extent of the infection. A number of individuals do not show signs or symptoms of infection. The symptoms can last from 2 to 9 months.
Hepatitis A in Myanmar: When should I see a doctor?
If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should seek immediate medical assistance. Apart from this, medical assistance, or requirement of a HAV vaccination will be required if you have recently travelled to a country with poor sanitation and have been exposed to poor hygienic conditions. You should also visit a doctor if someone close to you has contracted Hepatitis A.
There is no actual treatment for Hepatitis A. Medical practitioners provide medication for relief from the symptoms caused by Hepatitis A such as dehydration, nausea and fever. Patients are advised rest as they tend to feel sick and tired and have less energy. Nausea is often severe enough to make it difficult for the patients to eat, so they are advised to avoid high calorie food, and instead, take small meals throughout the day. People quarantined for Hepatitis A are usually administered immune serum globulin for prevention. The HAV vaccination is also administered to children above the age of 1 year, in an attempt to immunize against HAV.
Patients who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A usually recover completely within three to six months. However, in some rare cases, patients could suffer chronic liver dysfunction or liver failure. Deaths due to Hepatitis A are very rare.
The Hepatitis A vaccination administered to children above the ages of 1 year help in immunization against HAV.
However, for those who are visiting areas that have HAV outbreaks should take care to maintain proper hygiene like washing hands with soap, avoid drinking tap water and only use filtered water, avoid shellfish or raw, undercooked meat, wash all fruits and vegetables and peel them before eating.