Hepatitis A (HAV)

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus which attacks the liver.

How do you get Hepatitis A?

  • From feces. Infected persons may contaminate food if they do not wash their hands properly, or on a regular basis.
  • During trips to foreign countries (due to ingesting contaminated food and water).
  • From contact with the hands of a person with improperly washed hands, or a person who has the infection.
  • By using contaminated materials when taking drugs (e.g. contaminated water or substances that have come into contact with poorly-washed hands).
  • By unprotected anal sex or if the mouth comes into contact with the anus (rimming).

The infected person is contagious two weeks before the appearance of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?

The symptoms of Hepatitis A normally appear from two to six weeks after contamination. Major symptoms may last from 10 to 14 days. Most common symptoms of the Hepatitis A virus may include:

  • Fever;
  • Fatigue;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Nausea;
  • Abdominal discomfort;
  • Dark urine;
  • Jaundice (yellowish coloration of the eyes and skin).

What are the possible complications of Hepatitis A?

Unlike other forms of Hepatitis, Hepatitis A does not cause serious complications, since people who have this disease are not chronic carriers, and it does not lead to cirrhosis of the liver. In more serious cases, Hepatitis A can cause lesions in the liver. In rare cases, it may cause liver failure and even death.

How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?

By a blood test following the appearance of symptoms.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis A?

There is no treatment for Hepatitis A. This form of Hepatitis goes away on its own. Therefore, it is important for patients to heal themselves by getting lots of rest, eating properly and avoiding alcohol and drugs, which put increased strain on an already unhealthy liver. Once people are cured, they acquire protective antibodies against this disease.

How can Hepatitis A be prevented?

  • Get a Hepatitis A vaccination.
  • Wash hands well after using the washroom and before touching food, taking drugs, smoking, etc.
  • Avoid oral-anal sex with an infected person.
  • Use a latex dental dam to reduce the risks associated with oral-anal sex.

The Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for people who are at risk of contracting this disease due to their sexual behaviour or their exposure to contaminated foods, especially:

  • Intravenous drug users
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM), Deaf men who have sex with men (DMSM)
  • Street youth
  • People who travel to countries where Hepatitis is common

What are the risks for HIV-positive people?

People who are HIV-positive do not run a greater risk of contracting Hepatitis A.

The symptoms of Hepatitis A last longer in people who are HIV positive.

Hepatitis A causes an inflammation of the liver. This symptom is due to the infection and may increase some unpleasant side effects of certain HIV drugs. It is possible that your doctor may decide to temporarily discontinue your HIV drugs.

Do not make any decisions to stop treatment involving your HIV drugs without first consulting your doctor.

People who are HIV positive or who have AIDS may be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. However, the vaccine is less effective if the patients’ immune system is weakened. It is important to be tested to determine if you have developed antibodies.

Additional information

The vaccine is very effective, well tolerated and rarely causes side effects. It is usually administered in two doses, 6 to 12 months apart and offers long-term protection. There is also a combined vaccine that immunizes against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, in which case the dose will be different than that of only the Hepatitis A vaccine.

Reporting of Hepatitis A is compulsory. Public health professionals who diagnose Hepatitis A must inform the Public Health Department of their region.

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