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What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a type of liver infection caused by a virus termed hepatitis A (HAV). For clarity, the disease will be termed hepatitis A while the viral cause will be termed HAV. Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not cause chronic disease in contrast to some other viral causes of hepatitis. Antibodies produced during infection give life-long protection against the disease; there is an effective vaccine against HAV. Rarely, hepatitis may lead to liver failure and death.
Is hepatitis A contagious?
Hepatitis A is very contagious. People can be contagious even before symptoms appear. However, the numbers of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis A has been decreasing since the vaccine against HAV was introduced in 1995. The vaccine is effective in adults and children.
How will I know if I have hepatitis A?
Symptoms, if they occur, start about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to HAV. About 80% of adults have symptoms (see below) while children seldom show symptoms. Symptoms of hepatitis A may include the following:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Jaundice (yellowish color to skin and/or eyes
- Joint pain
Symptoms develop over a few days and in mild infections, last about 4 to 6 weeks with more severe infections lasting about 6 months. Your physician can diagnose hepatitis A by your history, physical exam, and blood tests.