Hepatitis A is a condition caused by a virus (hepatitis A virus, or HAV) that triggers inflammation of the liver, making it difficult for your liver to function the way it’s supposed to. Since the development of a vaccine in the 1990s, there have been relatively few cases of hepatitis A in the US.
Starting in 2016, however, the number of cases of hepatitis A in America started to rise. In fact, compared to cases in 2013-2015, there was a 294% increase in cases from 2016 to 2018, and research indicates the current increase continues.
If you have or suspect you have hepatitis A, it’s important to seek medical help from a gastroenterologist who specializes in liver function. This disease can cause debilitating symptoms and in rare cases may even become life-threatening.
At the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, our triple board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, specializes in diagnosing and treating many inflammatory diseases that affect your liver’s ability to function—including hepatitis A.
Here’s what you should know about hepatitis A and how Dr. Rivas can give you the treatment you need to restore the health of your liver.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A spreads by coming into contact with the fecal matter of an infected person. This can mean direct contact or indirect contact (e.g., contaminated food or water).
While this virus is common in many parts of the world that don't have access to clean water and food, incidences in the US were typically related to viral contamination of imported foods until 2016 when community-wide outbreaks started to occur.
While anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups are more likely to contract the virus. This includes:
- Recreational drug users
- Men who have sex with other men
- People who are homeless or unhoused
- People with another liver disease
- People who have clotting-factor disorders
- People who visit countries where hepatitis A is common
- Having people in your household who are in one of the above categories
The good news is that even if you’re in one or more of the above groups, you can reduce your risk of getting hepatitis A by getting the vaccine, practicing good bathroom hygiene, and always washing your hands before eating or making food.
How can I tell if I have hepatitis A?
The only way to know for sure if you have hepatitis A is through a blood test. Adults with hepatitis A usually have more severe symptoms than children who get the virus.
Although they don’t start immediately after you’re infected—it usually takes 2-7 weeks after infection—symptoms come on suddenly and may include:
- Diarrhea or clay-colored stools
- Losing your appetite
- Abdominal pain/discomfort
- Dark yellow urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
Once your symptoms start, you can expect them to persist for six weeks or several months.
How is hepatitis A treated?
Since hepatitis A is a virus, you don’t take antibiotics to treat the disease. For most people, rest, hydration, nutrition, and time will help your body fight the virus.
It’s possible for hepatitis A to cause liver failure, however. This is more common in older adults and people with other liver conditions. If you have another liver disorder, you may require medical care in a hospital to preserve your liver.
It’s important to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rivas if you suspect or have hepatitis A. He creates a personalized hepatitis A treatment plan that may include getting extra rest, drinking lots of fluids, eating healthy foods, and follow-up care to check your progress.
Dr. Rivas also explains the importance of avoiding alcohol and exercising extreme care when taking any medications—even over-the-counter medicines and natural supplements. This is because hepatitis A affects your liver function, which can make it difficult for your body to process these products.
Learn more about hepatitis A or schedule a blood test for the disease by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.