The five types of hepatitis viruses--A, B, C, D and E--are all distinct viruses that cause highly communicable infections of the liver. Hepatitis A, the subject of this article, is spread by contact with infected feces. It is most common in developing countries and affects about 1.4 million people worldwide per year. Knowing the facts about hepatitis A can mean the difference between keeping the disease confined and under control and causing a possible outbreak. What Causes Hepatitis A? Hepatitis A is usually caused by contact with the feces of an infected person. This happens when food is not washed and properly cooked. It is easily spread through water as well, especially when in an area without proper water sanitation procedures. The disease can also be spread through sexual contact as well as by sharing syringes with an infected person. Symptoms It usually takes about 14 to 28 days for a person with hepatitis A to develop any symptoms. Hepatitis A's lengthy incubation period means that a person could spread the disease without knowing that they have it. Often, symptoms do not appear in children at all or seem milder than in adults. The symptoms of hepatitis A include: Mild fever Loss of appetite Diarrhea Abdominal cramping or discomfort Dark colored urine And jaundice. Unlike other forms of hepatitis, hepatitis A rarely causes death from chronic liver disease. However, it can still cause acute liver failure, so it should be dealt with accordingly. At Risk Populations Children are most at risk of contracting hepatitis A in areas where it is common. In countries where poor sanitation is a problem, 90% of children contract the disease by age 10. Interestingly, though they do not present with symptoms, children are less likely to cause an outbreak in these areas because of the fact that the adults and older children have already had the disease and have thus developed immunity. Conversely, in areas that have lower incidents of hepatitis A, children with the disease are more likely to start an outbreak among older age groups because the other children and adults have not been previously exposed. Teenagers and those who inject drugs are often at risk even in developed countries. Other high risk populations in these countries include gay men and those who travel to other countries where the disease is prevalent without getting vaccinated. Treatment Like many viruses, treatment of hepatitis A is aimed primarily at making the infected person comfortable. There is no drug to kill the virus, it simply has to run its course. This may take several weeks or a months. During that time, it is important to make sure that the person takes in enough fluids to replenish the body as vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. It is also important to rest and to limit the use of drugs (including over the counter medicines) as they may overtax the liver as it is trying to recover from the illness. Prevention Vaccines for hepatitis A are available around the world and usually start to prevent infection after one dose. However, because there is no vaccination for infants, it is important that other means of prevention be used as well. These include making sure that the drinking water is safe, good waste disposal methods and frequent handwashing.
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