Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation to the liver. The liver is the largest glandular organ within of human body. It plays the most important function as filter to purify and cleanse our body from anything it ingests as part of the digestive system. Some of its functions include detoxifying alcohol, drugs, pathogens, environmental toxins, and hazardous microorganisms that enter our body whether orally or epidermally.
The liver cells remove soluble substances from the necessary nutrients such as oxygen, acids, fats, and wastes from the blood all the time to produce the energy that our body needs to perform everyday. The liver also eliminates the excess hormones from the blood and provides feedback for the release of certain hormones that perform certain functions in the body. It stores vitamins and folic acid as well as synthesizes blood clotting factors.
As Dr. Melissa Palmer would put it, the liver serves as the body’s “watchdog, grocer, housekeeper, bodybuilder, energy plant supervisor and sanitation engineer” all rolled into one (8-9). If the liver does not function well, it can result in infertility and behavior changes including the sexual dysfunctions which would have psychological repercussions to an individual, though it varies from one individual to another based on heredity and other variations of characteristics.
Hepatitis A is an infectious disease which is related to other viruses affecting the inflammation of liver. This virus is formerly known as infectious hepatitis to serve as a cause of Hepatitis A Virus (HAV), first characterized in 1973 when it was detected in human feces while studying another infectious disease. Those who are greatly affected by this disease are children and those who have not been vaccinated with the anti-hepatitis A. This is one of the three most common hepatitis viruses that affect the human body; hepatitis B and C are the other two.
Having HAV may not cause too much chronic disease because of its ongoing long-term healing; the liver’s “self-help” function would usually take care of the disease in a few months time (Balch 479). However, the liver does become inflamed and tumid. HAV also poses a greater threat to a certain number of people, especially those experiencing liver diseases and the elderly people over 60 years old, although the chances of getting it theoretically declines as one ages. These patients have a higher possibility of liver failure after contracting HAV. Statistically, there are about 100 people who die each year due to HAV, although the disease is not actually serious enough to be fatal to an individual (Palmer 82; Sherlock and Dooley 272).
HAV is habitually spread by close personal contact, sometimes from stools found in other persons with HAV, by eating unsafe or unwashed foods such as street foods, or by drinking contaminated water with HAV (Palmer 84). There are some risk factors that can easily affect some of the normal people dealing with this virus. For example, a person with HAV can easily pass the disease to others within the same household.
A person who travels internationally all the time can also easily spread the virus, especially when he or she infected and not detected of having it. A person taking intravenous medication can also acquire the virus easily. If the person gets HAV and recovers, that person will never get it again or it will possibly evolve to the second level which is hepatitis B. However, that person cannot transmit the said virus again to others.
There are several common causes of the transmission of the virus. Hepatitis A can be caused by many drugs and toxic agents as well as by numerous viruses. Poor personal hygiene, direct person-to-person contact, consuming raw food such as fruits, vegetables, and undercooked shellfish that came from polluted or contaminated water such as sewage can spread HAV as well. People changing baby diapers or forgetting to wash their hands after using the bathrooms can also get HAV.
Thus, hepatitis A infection is likely to happen wherever hygiene may be a problem or nonexistent. Fecal-oral contamination can occur when certain insects like houseflies carry bits of feces and possibly transplant them on anything they land on, especially food and human skin, and HAV can be transferred orally when touched or ingested. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual contact, though studies have shown that this rarely occurs. Regarding the latter, this only happens when the intercourse is anal in nature and performed by members of the same sex, in this case homosexual men (Palmer 84; Balch 479).
Outbreaks have also happened at military installations and institutions like mental hospitals, and public prisons can also be the place where one can be vulnerable to the disease. The spread of HAV in these areas is attributed to the poor and appalling sanitary conditions of these places. Workers and children in daycare centers may acquire or spread the virus also through fecal-oral contamination due to diaper changing, especially if proper hygiene is not observed. On a larger scale, this is very common in Third World countries where health and proper hygiene are regarded as an important concern. In rare cases, HAV can also lead to death if not treated or allowed to prosper, but as mentioned earlier, it is usually not fatal (Palmer 82-84).
To identify the symptoms of HAV, there are various signs one can see from the person affected by the virus after two to seven weeks of the infection. The symptoms are usually mild and do not look very serious. Having low energy or feeling weak and fatigued is the most common symptom. Others may include unusually high fever, loss of appetite during meal time, and feeling nauseous most of the time or queasy. A person with hepatitis A infection may also experience radical fatigue, frequent headaches, soreness of muscles, pain near the liver, and jaundice wherein a person’s skin and the whites of the eyes are discolored and appear to turn yellow.
The discoloration is said to be caused by an increased level of a yellow or greenish viscid alkaline fluid secreted by the liver and transmitted to the duodenum where it aids especially in the emulsification and absorption of fats pigments in the blood (Sherlock and Dooley 269 ; Balch 479). This is already a disease by itself, but it is often the first syndrome of a liver problem, and hepatitis A is often the first suspect when such a symptom appears.
As of the moment, there is no known treatment available for HAV. As stated earlier, the liver has a unique way of “healing” itself when it has this disease. According to Dr. Palmer, a patient does not have to do much by way of treating the disease except to rest or try to find ways to feel comfortable. So far, the only treatments available are those that address the symptoms of the disease.
For instance, if one is dehydrated, the patient can either drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, or if there is medical intervention, the doctor can administer intravenous (IV) fluids. If the symptoms are not severe, it is best for the patient to stay at home to recuperate, but should it become too serious, it is highly recommended to spend some time in the hospital for further observation (Palmer 88; Sherlock and Dooley 267).
One good thing about getting infected with hepatitis A is that once one had the disease, it cannot return again as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, it is recommended that anyone with HAV should be kept isolated to avoid the spread of the infection (Balch 481). Furthermore, there are other preventive measures that could keep HAV from infecting anyone:
Avoiding alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic drinks, especially when taken excessively, can worsen HAV as the liver will not be able to detoxify the alcohol taken by the body. This must be avoided, especially if one has HAV (Lipski 210).
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. It is preferable to take those that are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that will bolster the immune system. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables are highly recommended rather than processed ones (Lipski 210).
Take multivitamins loaded with minerals. It is highly recommended that one take multivitamins that contain vitamin C and E, zinc, selenium, and other antioxidants (Lipski 210).
Take Rooibos tea. Also known as red tea, Rooibos tea is caffeine-free and contains antioxidants (Lipski 210).
Observe proper physical hygiene. This consists of simple tasks such as: washing hands; cleaning and disinfecting sections of the house, especially the kitchen and bathroom areas; avoiding to eat any seafood or even fruits and vegetables that are not properly washed in the marketplace; and avoiding to drink water taken from the faucet if its purity is questionable (Lipski 210).
In conclusion, HAV may not look very serious, but as stated earlier, it can become severe if proper measures are not followed and if one does not follow the preventive measures given. It is all the matter of changing one’s lifestyle to a healthy one such as minimizing, if not totally eliminating, alcohol intake and most importantly, observing cleanliness and proper hygiene at all times.
The last two are probably the best defense one can have against HAV; best of all, they do not cost much. One other thing to keep in mind is that the liver has amazing capabilities that allow itself to self-heal, and when it does, it will affect the other parts of the body being its “environmental specialist.” The key is to make sure the liver is functioning well and kept free from disease for it to be able to perform its job in maintaining one’s health.