The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread when a person eats food or drinks water that has come in contact with a person who did not wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom and they touch other things or food. The virus may also be transmitted by water that is contaminated with sewage and shellfish that lived in contaminated water. Hepatitis A is also common in developing countries that have poor sanitary conditions.
This virus can also be spread in day care centers. Children, especially those in diapers, may get stool on their hands and then touch things that other children put into their mouths. Workers can also spread the virus if they don’t wash their hands after changing a diaper.
Symptoms usually appear within 2 – 7 weeks after coming in contact with something infected with the virus and can last for several months—especially in adults. Young children may not show signs of an infection. Symptoms include:
- A low-grade fever
- Not feeling very hungry
- Muscle and joint aches
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
- Darker yellow or orange color of the urine
- Nausea, vomiting
- Weight loss
The liver is usually not permanently damaged. This type of hepatitis does not stay in a person’s system (dormant) and doesn’t come back. A person can, however, catch the virus again from another source.
Your doctor will collect health information from you including your child’s medical history and symptoms and will also complete a physical. Blood may be drawn in order to check the liver for signs of inflammation.
There are no treatments or medicines for hepatitis A. The body’s immune system must fight the infection.
- Getting a lot of rest and cutting back on normal activities for a period of time is the best way for the body to fight this infection.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated—especially in children. Fruit juices and broth are also good to drink.
- Children should not eat fatty foods until the doctor says it is OK because fatty foods are hard for the liver to digest.
- Before a child takes ANY medications, check with the doctor first. Also, it is very important to keep the child’s doctor appointments because the liver’s condition will need to be monitored for some time.
To keep from getting this virus:
- Wash hands well after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
- Wash hands before making or eating food.
- Keep the bathroom, bed linens, clothes, etc. clean to prevent spreading the virus. If possible, have sick child use a separate bathroom from other family members until they are well.
- Make sure children get vaccinated starting at 1 year old.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis if family member are going to travel—especially to another country where there is poor sanitary conditions. The vaccine involves 2 shots, 6 months apart from each other. If your child is planning to travel to one of these areas, he/she should have the first shot at least 6 months before the travel date to ensure that the second shot may be given prior to leaving.