Hepatitis A infection – Causes, Indicators and Treatments
Acute HAV infection is a viral infection of liver directly caused by the HAV, which is usually transmitted to us by a close contact, by ingesting food or water that or whom have been infected with the same virus.
Many people with an acute HAV infection of the liver have either mild or subclinical presentations that can be confused with other viral infections (such as a flu). The majority do not seek help and fortunately with some lifestyle and dietary measures most will recover fully. Occasionally the hepatitis can be more severe and may lead to liver failure.
Fortunately there are biomarkers that you can track proactively if you have come into contact with someone with HAV infection, suffered a bout of food poisoning, or had travelled (plan to travel) through endemic regions. Early detection and preparation (such as vaccination or injecting immunoglobulin) within 24 hours of exposure to the virus can improve disease outcome and prevent progress to liver failure.
What are these biomarkers called?
Anti HAV IgM antibodies (HAV IgM) is the name of the biomarker that helps with diagnosis of acute-phase HAV infection. Since this antibody is produced 2 to 3 weeks after infection, the timing of the blood test should take this into consideration.
Anti HAV IgG antibodies (HAV IgG) is the name of the biomarker that tells us if you are immune to HAV infection (either from vaccination or previous infection that you may not be aware of). This can be done immediately after exposure to virus to see if you should see your doctor for further testing and management. If HAV IgG is positive, then your recent exposure to the virus is much less likely to be of any concern (only pertaining to HAV infection).
Why is it important to track them?
- Many people with acute HAV infection either have mild or no symptoms at all. And symptoms may be put down as a viral flu since they are generally nonspecific. A simple quick blood test will tell you with very high certainty of your disease status.
- If you can have an urgent HAV IgG result within 24 hours after exposure to check your immune status, then your doctor may offer either vaccination or an injection of immunoglobulin to improve disease outcome if you are not immune. If you are immune then your doctor will reassure you and talk about the possibility of other exposures (HIV, Hepatitis B, etc.)
- If you know from the HAV IgG that you are not vaccinated and not immune, then talk to your doctor regarding vaccination. Prevention is better than cure. This is even more urgent if you plan to travel to endemic areas.
How is HAV infection spread? Can we prevent it?
Understanding how HAV spreads will lead to preventative measures that work. Although there is a very effective vaccine against HAV, there are still many areas of the world where HAV infection is endemic. HAV is highly contagious, and we do have a very good understanding of how HAV spreads:
- Contact with an infected person: fecal- poor food handling and personal hygiene from infected person; food outbreak; man having sex with man;
- Contact with food or water from endemic region
- Use of illegal drugs
Practicing good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. People most at risk (drug users, travellers) should be vaccinated. Men venturing in certain sexual behaviors should use barrier protection.
What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis A?
You may start to experience symptoms of hepatitis A 2 – 4 weeks after getting infected, but not everyone will have these symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
- Fatigue and generally sick
- Pain in the joints and muscle
- High temperature
- Pain in the upper-right of your belly
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Yellow hue on the skin and white of the eyes, known as jaundice
- Dark urine, pale stool
How do you manage HAV infection?
There is no specific medical treatment for HAV infection. Your doctor will mostly consider supportive measures if the disease is mild. These supportive measures, apart from alleviating symptoms you may have, also include natural treatments in diet and lifestyle measures.
Eating a healthy and well-balanced meal. These following foods are recommended on a daily basis:
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
- Cabbage, broccoli, celery and beets
- Root vegetables – sweet potatoes and carrots
- Organic meat and wild-caught fish
- Fruits such as pineapple, blueberries, and citrus fruits
- Walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds
- Anti-inflammatory spices such as, turmeric, ginger and cayenne
- Bone broth
- Healthy fats including, Olive oil, ghee, avocados, coconut oil
- Probiotic-rich yogurt
- Gluten-free grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats and millet
- Get a plenty of rest
- Drink a lot of fluid
- Drink ginger tea
- Try peppermint oil
HAV is one of the primary causes of food-related infection and illness. It is highly contagious. In one incidence in Shanghai 1982, over 400,000 people were infected during a food outbreak.
If you have symptoms of hepatitis, or have been exposed to HAV, you should immediately take a HAV IgG test to see if you are immune, and a Liver Function Test (LFT), to screen or detect liver inflammation and damage. 2 – 4 weeks later you may take a HAV IgM if you are not immune.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to practice basic personal hygiene like washing hands with soap after you use the toilet. Also, you should stay away from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, raw vegetables that have been washed in dirty water, unpasteurized milk, cheese or other dairy products. High risk adults and ALL children should be vaccinated.
If you’re interested in learning more about Hepatitis A infection and how it can harm your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!