Important Facts About Hepatitis A

In April, 2009, there was an outbreak of Hepatitis A in our city. Almost everyday, the local radio listeners were bombarded of the news on how many people got contaminated and the extent of epidemic . Unfortunately, I was one of those who had the dise

Hepatitis A, among the viral diseases, is one highly contagious but a self-limiting disease.  Like other acute illnesses, the symptoms  suddenly and sharply  show up or are felt by patients abruptly, causing a range of clinical problems from mild to no symptoms at all, or to more severe symptoms resulting to a disruption in the regular daily activities, or rarely , an acute liver failure and  death.   As a self-limiting disease, it eventually goes away without medication and may not cause chronic problems. 

The patient’s physical appearance alone cannot tell accurately if one has contracted it.  Unless one undergoes  Serum Glutamic  Pyruvic  Transaminase (SGPT) test, nobody can tell if one has the disease.  In my case, I consulted a doctor after knowing that four of my peers were hospitalized and another three exhibited the same symptoms as mine. The first doctor who checked me would not believe the possibility that I might have been contaminated with Hepatitis A. I even showed him the yellowish color of the whites in my eyes as well as my skin but to no avail.  He was not convinced I contracted  Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) despite telling him of more  symptoms I have had,  since five days prior to that consultation, such as:

  1. nausea
  2. vomiting
  3. loss of appetite
  4. abdominal pain and 
  5. unexplained body weakness. 

Two days after the meeting with my doctor, I decided to seek second opinion from another doctor, as I did not feel any better.  Having seen the color of  my skin turned yellowish and that of my eyes, he advised me to undergo SGPT test, which turned out positive for the virus.  The next two weeks  had been psychologically hard for me to cope as the thought of being stuck home due to illness sunk in.  Other symptoms showed up like - pale or gray-colored stools, low-grade fever, dark brownish urine (like that of cola or strong tea) and pain  in the area of liver, which scared me all the more. For other co-workers, they experienced skin rash.  My doctor said diarrhea may also occur for children. 

Hepatitis A is not at all deadly disease.  Many people got cured without  seeing a doctor and  may not even exhibit symptoms but get well soon enough.  This disease is often mistaken for gastroenteritis by several doctors because some symptoms for  both disease are almost the same.  In my case, my first doctor told me of possible gastroenteritis, that was why he prescribed pain reliever for my abdominal pain and so did the doctors of my two peers. 

Mode of Transmission

The disease is typically caused by ingestion of food or drink contaminated with stool of infected person, no  matter how tiny it is.  The following are modes of transmitting the disease from one person to another:

  1. Eating food prepared by a person infected with HAV who did not properly wash the hands after using the restroom;
  2. Engaging in anal/oral sex with someone infected with the virus;
  3. Unwashed hands after diaper change; and
  4. Drinking water contaminated with HAV.

In our case, we were contaminated through food ingestion prepared and sold to us  by an HAV infected person.  We  have found it out a month after a query was made on the  source of the disease as it pointed to the only person who sold food on those particular days at the occupants of the whole building, where our office is located.  Some workers from other offices who were contaminated have also pointed to the same person who sold food to them.

The importance of hepatitis A vaccine to prevent the disease can never be discounted.  More so, the practice of healthy habits makes a difference in preventing the spread of the disease.  Since the incident happened,  no food vendors are allowed  to get inside our office premises.  In the end, it is still wise to follow the advice of doctors not to buy snacks and meals from peddlers nor eat food that has not been subjected to heat.

References:

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/hepatitis_a/page2_em.htm

http://hepatitis.about.com/od/virustypes/a/hepatitis_A.htm

http://www.who.int/topics/hepatitis/en/

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hepatitisa.html

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Sandy James
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