Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. The liver is located in the abdominal cavity, right below the costal arch. When the liver is inflamed one speaks of hepatitis. Sometimes the liver is inflamed by chemical agents such as alcohol. But a number of micro-organisms can also cause liver inflammation, for example, a number of viruses. The human immune system responds to contact with the virus by making antibodies. For convenience, the viruses that can cause liver inflammation have been given a letter: hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, F, and G virus.
First discovered and the most famous virus is the hepatitis A virus. In the past, until the end of World War II, hepatitis A was also common in the Western world. Due to the construction of a good sewage system and drinking water purification, it is now much less common in the some countries.
The virus is still very common in many parts of the world. In those parts of the world, almost all children from about 10 years old have already been infected. After someone has gone through the disease, he is immune for life. Most people have not experienced this infection the natural way. There is hardly any risk of contamination. Most infections are contracted during holidays abroad. Let’s see Hepatitis A is a liver infection symptoms.
Hepatitis A symptoms
The most prominent symptoms of a hepatitis A infection are:
- pain in the right abdomen, under the costal arch (there is the liver and it is inflamed)
- one feels sick (general malaise)
- a feeling of fatigue
- no appetite (and certainly no appetite for fatty foods)
- suffer from nausea and vomiting
- dark urine (sometimes it is even the color of cola)
- light-colored stools
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Especially in young children, the disease can proceed almost without symptoms. The chance of a serious course increases with age.
How does hepatitis A develop?
Hepatitis A can develop after infection with the virus. The virus spreads through human feces. The risk of contamination is higher, especially in countries with poor hygiene conditions.
The virus damages the liver cells. As a result, the entire liver functions less well. The liver has an important function in purifying our blood, during an infection the purifying effect is less. Waste products then enter the blood and give the yellow color.
The virus is excreted in the feces. The virus can survive outside the body for a long time. If you eat foods contaminated with the virus and do not clean and cook properly, you can become infected.
Is it serious and what can you expect?
In general, a hepatitis A infection has a favorable course. Small children in particular sometimes have few complaints during an infection. As people get older, the complaints can be much more serious and people cannot function at their old level for a long time after an infection.
In the past, the disease was also common in the Netherlands and other “Western countries”. Better hygiene, such as sewage and clean drinking water, has clearly reduced this since the end of the Second World War. In developing countries where hygiene is less good, the disease is still very common.
If someone has been infected with hepatitis A, he is protected for life. The body has made antibodies itself.
When to the doctor?
If an infection lasts longer or if the course is violent (seriously ill), it is advisable to consult with your doctor. It is especially important to visit your doctor in case of diseases in the first weeks to months after a trip in the (sub) tropics. Tell him you’ve been traveling!
There are good and safe vaccines against hepatitis A. All travelers aged 1 year or older who go to a country where hepatitis A is common and who have not (yet) experienced hepatitis A are advised to receive vaccination protection.
What can you do about it yourself?
Hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food. The virus enters the water through the feces of infected patients. It can get back into our food via the water. Especially in tropical countries, the virus is often in the water of the sewers. By swimming near where the sewer enters the sea it is easy to become infected.
The virus also occurs there in seafood such as oysters, mussels and other shellfish. It is therefore possible to become infected by eating raw shellfish. Lettuce, cutlery and plates that have been washed in contaminated water can also transmit an infection.
- Maintain good food hygiene from both food and drink, especially in the tropics;
- Do not swim near sewers, especially in countries where hepatitis A is still common;
- Do not eat raw oysters and other shellfish, especially from countries where hepatitis A is still high;
- Even if food or cutlery has been washed in contaminated water, it can become contaminated;
- Get vaccinated when you travel to (sub) tropical countries.
General advice and precautions
Hepatitis A is caused by infection with a virus. In fact, the transmission always takes place by mouth (via the so-called “feco-oral route”), ie via contaminated hands, contaminated food (infamous crustaceans and shellfish) and contaminated drinking water. Blood and other body fluids can also be contagious. To prevent contamination, it is therefore important to pay close attention to what enters the body through your mouth.
In the Netherlands and other “western countries” it is generally quite safe. Although small “epidemics” also occur in nurseries, schools, barracks and student houses in the Netherlands. Hepatitis A is very common in other tropical countries in particular, and almost everyone over the age of ten has been infected there.
The disease can be prevented by vaccination. There are two types of vaccination; the so-called “active form” and the “passive form”.
The active vaccination
The artificially weakened virus is injected. Because the virus has been weakened, it can no longer multiply and can therefore no longer harm the receiving person. In general, one hardly notices it. The immune system of the person receiving the killed virus reacts as with an “ordinary” infection. This natural reaction means that the immune system produces so-called antibodies. On the 14th day after the first vaccination, 90% of the vaccinees already have antibodies in the blood. On day 30 this is almost 100%. A booster injection is given after 6 to 12 months. The protection period is then at least 30 years.
The passive vaccination
Antibodies have been removed from the blood of people who have experienced the disease. These antibodies are injected during “passive immunization”. This is called gamma globulin. The advantage of this is that people are protected almost immediately. The disadvantage is that the “foreign” gamma globulin is broken down again in about 6 weeks to 3 months. So this can only be used for short trips to areas where hepatitis A is common. This form of vaccination is only used in certain target groups.
People who previously had an infection and therefore have “naturally” antibodies in the body do not need to be vaccinated. This can be examined by blood tests.
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