Watch your liver!

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

Hepatitis A is an acute infectious disease of the liver caused by a virus known as hepatitis A virus. It is highly contagious, causes inflammation and inhibits the functional ability of the liver. While some infections could get cured without treatment, others may cause a permanent liver damage.
The virus is spread by ingesting food and water that has been contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. It can also be transmitted through close or sexual contact with an infected person. It occurs sporadically and has a tendency to recur cyclically. Epidemics related to contaminated food or water can explosively erupt, such as the epidemic that occurred in Shanghai in 1988 affecting about 300 000 people.
Risk factors of Hepatitis A include haemophilia, use of illicit drugs, oral-anal contact with an infected person, living closely with an infected person and homosexuality. Improvement in hygiene, sanitation and public health policies can have a great impact in areas with high risk. Vaccination can also lead to reduction of illness in high risk groups. The vaccine is given in two doses – an initial vaccination followed by a booster shot six months later.
Severe symptoms are more pronounced in older people. Children under six years of age may not display noticeable symptoms.  Symptoms may not appear until after 2-6 weeks of initial infection and may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), fever and abdominal pain. An infected person remains infectious for up to 2 weeks prior to onset of symptom and for 1 week afterward.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection. Therapy is geared towards replacing fluids lost through diarrhea and maintaining comfort.


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