Hepatitis A: Causes, Effects, Signs and Symptoms

Introduction

The outbreak and prevalence of any disease in any part of the world arouse medical attention and research interests globally. Notably, before 1995, the outbreak, incidences, and the spread of Hepatitis A depicted an upward trend globally. For instance, in the US, the disease incidence rate was 6/100,000. However, the incidence rate of Hepatitis A showed a drastic drop from the above rate to 0.4/100,000 upon the introduction of the vaccine(Koenig et al., 2017). From 2016 to 2017, there have been increased cases of Hepatitis A infections and mortality in the US including, Los Angeles, Michigan, New York, and Hawaii. Researchers attribute the 2016 outbreak to the consumption of Raw Scallops sold in the US local eateries. Children below 12 years and older adults with comorbidities, regardless of sex, gender or race, are the most vulnerable populations to contract and experience severe Hepatitis A illnesses such as liver failure(Koenig et al., 2017). This essay will critically analyze hepatitis A, the anatomy and physiology of the healthy biliary system, the causes, effects, signs and symptoms, tests, treatment, and its future preventive measures.

Anatomy and Physiology of a Healthy Liver and Biliary System

Hepatitis A, like all other types of hepatitis infections, attacks the liver, which is a primary organ of the biliary system. Notably, the biliary system comprises the liver, bile ducts, and the gall bladder, all of which contribute to bile formation, storage, and secretion. The liver secretes the bile, which flows in the ducts that constitute the common hepatic duct that transports the bile into the duodenum. The gall bladder serves as bile storage before and after meals, where about 90% of electrolytes and water absorption takes place, leaving out cholesterol and bile acids(Dooley & Sherlock, 2018). During mealtimes, the gall bladder releases the bile into the small intestines, followed by the contraction of smooth muscles of the gall bladder. The bile released serves the function of metabolic waste in the bile and emulsification of fats and oils. Under normal circumstances, a healthy liver works together with other organs and ducts of the biliary system to perform several roles: secretion, metabolism, and manufacture of plasma proteins, detoxification, and glycogen storage. However, infection with the hepatitis A virus impairs the normal functioning of an individual’s biliary system. If the patient does not seek medical attention in time, severe symptoms are bound to cause serious illnesses.

Causes of Hepatitis A

The causative agent of hepatitis A is the hepatitis virus type A, which invades the liver cells. There are several ways in which an individual can contract hepatitis A. for instance, consumption of water or food with fecal contamination exposes one to the risk of getting hepatitis A infection. Contamination of food or water with the virus can occur when an infected person fails to thoroughly wash their hands after visiting the toilets and hands fruits or other raw foods to the healthy person using their bare hands. At times drinking untreated tap water can promote ingestion of the virus if such water contains fecal traces from sewage pollutants (Koenig et al., 2017).In addition, close interaction with infected persons regardless of whether such people portray signs and symptoms of the disease or not. Further, sexual intercourse with infected partners can lead one to contract the hepatitis A virus.

Several factors increase the risk of one contracting the Hepatitis A virus. Traveling or working in hepatitis, prone environments heighten the risk of contracting the virus. Childcare providers are also at higher risk of getting hepatitis A (Doshani et al., 2019). Further, the use of intravenous recreational drugs exposes one to high chances of contracting the hepatitis A virus. In addition, careless handling of hepatitis A infected stool by laboratory workers increases their vulnerability to getting hepatitis A infections. People whose occupation involves toilet cleaning in institutions have a high possibility of contracting hepatitis A especially if they do not have the right protective gear while working (Doshani et al., 2019). Notably, physical interaction with primates in a zoo or test laboratories can cause one to get the virus easily. Patients requiring blood transfusion or organ transplant also face a high risk of getting hepatitis A. therefore, several factors that can contribute to the contraction of hepatitis A are numerous thus people should exercise great care wherever they live or work.

Effects of Hepatitis A on Body Systems, Signs, and Symptoms

Regardless of the method of contraction of the virus, the hepatitis A virus ends up in the liver cells, where it takes multiplies for about 12 days before entering the bloodstream. During the initial stages, the viral levels in the blood are high, but excretion reduced this concentration. At this stage, the patient may exhibit mild or no signs and symptoms of the disease. However, after the maturity of the incubation period of the virus, which takes 28 days, the fecal excretion of the virus declines, while the viral concentration in the patient’s bloodstream increases(Koenig et al., 2017). At this point, the patient starts to exhibit illness and signs and symptoms, including nausea, fever, dark urine, abdominal discomfort, yellow eyes, and skin, also known as jaundice. Individuals can exhibit the above symptoms for some weeks before complete recovery (Swetha, 2017). In addition, patients with hepatitis A can experience fever, sore muscles, and abnormal weight loss. Noteworthy, hepatitis A does not cause severe liver damage and thus cannot contribute to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. However, older people and people with comorbidities experience severe symptoms of hepatitis A.

Treatment and Prevention

To date, there is no specific cure or treatment for hepatitis A. Mostly, people with hepatitis A rely on their immune system to fight and cure viral infections for complete recovery. However, the treatment options for hepatitis A help alleviate the severity of signs and symptoms of the disease. For instance, doctors may recommend the patient have adequate body rest to reduce body weakness and fatigue. Further, since hepatitis A causes patients to experience nausea which affects the patient’s eating ability, physicians advise such patients to eat little but high-energy foods. Frequent intake of fluids is also a treatment option for hepatitis A. since hepatitis A attacks the liver, patients need to protect their liver by avoiding alcoholic drinks(World Health Organization, 2020). To reduce the chances of getting hepatitis A in the future, people should take several preventive measures. One can reduce the risk of getting hepatitis A virus by either washing hands after visiting toilets or interacting with other people’s blood, stool, and other body fluids (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). People living in hepatitis-prone environments should consider vaccination to protect themselves from infections.

Additionally, vaccination of the homeless and children aged 12 years and above is a necessary measure that will reduce the prevalence and transmission of the Hepatitis A virus. Notably, recent medical research approves that the hepatitis A vaccine is without side effects on the recipient’s body. As a result, a complete dose of the vaccine for the vulnerable people within communities can provide long-lasting protection from Hepatitis A. Findings from recent research prove that the hepatitis A vaccine has a 95% effective rate of protection (Doshani et al., 2019). When the vaccine is introduced to immunocompetent people, they develop the hepatitis A antibody within 4 days. Therefore, the government should ensure routine vaccination of homeless people to stop the spread of hepatitis A.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay critically analyzes several aspects of hepatitis A. This analysis involves exploring the anatomy and physiology of a healthy biliary system, the causes of hepatitis A, its effects, signs, and symptoms of the disease, and its treatment and prevention. Notably, hepatitis A is a viral disease of the liver that does not lead to chronic liver damage. Under normal circumstances, the biliary system, which comprises the liver, gall bladder, and several ducts, excretes high proportions of the virus, which an individual may have acquired through ingestion or sexual intercourse. However, as the virus incubation period matures, the viral concentration in the bloodstream increases causing patients to exhibit signs and symptoms including fatigue, nausea, abdominal discomfort, and jaundice. Factors that increase the risk of hepatitis A infection include the hygiene conditions of the residential or occupational environment of an individual. Hepatitis A does not have any specific cure or treatment. Still, physicians recommend patients to rest adequately, take little high-energy foods, and avoid alcohol to reduce the severity of hepatitis A symptoms. Lastly, the preventive measures for hepatitis A include living a hygienic lifestyle and vaccination.

References

Dooley, J., & Sherlock, S. (2018). Sherlock’s diseases of the liver and biliary system. Wiley-Blackwell.

Doshani, M., Weng, M., L. Moore, K., R. Romero, J., & P. Nelson, N. (2019). Recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices for use of hepatitis a vaccine for persons experiencing homelessness. CDC.gov. Web.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Hepatitis A questions and answers for health professionals. Web.

Koenig, K., Shastry, S., & Burns, M. (2017). Hepatitis A virus: Essential knowledge and a novel identify-isolate-inform tool for frontline healthcare providers. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 18(6), 1000-1007. Web.

Swetha Samji, N. (2017). Viral Hepatitis: Background, Pathophysiology, Etiology. Emedicine.medscape.com. Web.

World Health Organization. (2020). Hepatitis A. Web.