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Hepatitis A and your familyHepatitis A & Your Family

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is both a virus and an illness. Hepatitis A illness, a liver disease, is caused by infection of Hepatitis A virus. However, not everyone who is infected with Hepatitis A virus will have symptoms of the illness. In most cases, the illness is characterized by mild, flu-like gastrointestinal symptoms. At its worst, it can impair proper functioning of the liver and even lead to death.

What Causes Hepatitis A?

The Hepatitis A virus

A virus is a collection of molecules that uses the body's method of constructing new material to produce copies of itself. As is the case with other viruses, when the Hepatitis A virus uses a human host to reproduce itself, the human host often becomes ill in the effort to fight the virus.

Scientists have classified the Hepatitis A virus as a member of the enterovirus group of the Picornaviridae family. The virus is characterized by a single molecule of RNA encased by a small protein shell. Other picornaviruses cause human illnesses ranging from polio to the common cold.

The Hepatitis A virus is the most common of the hepatitis viruses, accounting for around 40 percent of all cases of hepatitis in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year in the United states an estimated 143,000 cases of Hepatitis A virus infection occur, but only around 30,000 are reported. Hepatitis A virus is responsible for an estimated 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A worldwide each year.

The Hepatitis A illness

The Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by “fecal-oral” transmission. This means the virus is transmitted when a person puts something in his/her mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person infected with the Hepatitis A virus. Because Hepatitis A depends on the fecal-oral route for transmission, the illness is most easily spread in poor sanitary conditions or when good personal hygiene is not observed.

Hepatitis A outbreaks are often traced back to contaminated food. Food supplies can become contaminated when infected workers come into contact with food supplies during processing or in restaurants. The foods most commonly associated Hepatitis A outbreaks are water, shellfish and salads. In most cases, the true source is water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Other common sources of food borne Hepatitis A are: cold cuts, pre-made sandwiches, unwashed fruit, fruit juices, milk products, vegetables, salads, shellfish, and iced drinks.

Most people who become infected with the Hepatitis A virus return to normal health. Although the illness is more common in children, it is often more severe in adults. More than one-fifth of adult Hepatitis A patients require hospitalization. Each year approximately 100 people die as a result of Hepatitis A infections in the U.S.

In severe cases, Hepatitis A can cause inflammation and swelling of the liver. This can impair liver function and cause permanent damage to the liver. Most of these cases require hospitalization.

Prevention


Other Food Illnesses @ Food-Poisoning.org:
Campylobacter | E coli | Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome
Hepatitis A | Listeria | Norwalk Virus | Salmonella | Shigella


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