Hepatitis A is a viral hepatitis that affects the liver and is caused by the hepatitis A virus, or HAV. The liver is an organ found on the right side of our belly (abdomen) under the rib cage. It cleans our blood of toxins, poisons, and bacteria. It produces bile which helps our body breakdown food. It stores vitamins, minerals and sugars. And it helps control cholesterol levels. Hepatitis A occurs when the hepatitis A virus causes the liver to swell and become inflamed, which stops it from working properly. Children infected with HAV usually have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Symptoms in adults tend to be worse the older the adult is at the time of the infection. The good news is that 99% of people who become infected with HAV recover fully. Symptoms may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, clay colored bowels movements, loss of appetite, low grade fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Hepatitis A symptoms usually go away within 6 months. Sometimes symptoms may return for a short time, but hepatitis A does not become chronic.
Hepatitis A is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, including sexual intercourse, or from food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person. Basic precautions like washing hands with soap and water following bowel movements and before food preparation can reduce the incidence. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis A can be prevented through vaccinations. Vaccinations are recommended for children (beginning at 12 months old) and people at risk for exposure to HAV. Physicians can diagnose hepatitis A through a blood test. Treatment usually includes rest, eating small meals to help with nausea, and resting your liver by avoiding alcohol and certain medications. Talk with your doctor if you or a family member has been diagnosed with hepatitis. Support groups are also good resources of support and information.