Hepatitis A, a highly contagious infection that affects the liver, has been cropping up more in the news over the last few years, but many may not know much about the disease. The effects of this viral infection can vary, from a mild sickness that lasts a few weeks, to a much more severe illness lasting multiple months. Most people recover completely without any lasting issues, but while rare, Hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A is spread when a person accidentally ingests the virus, which is present in the fecal matter of an infected person.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A may start appearing roughly 2 to 4 weeks after exposure, but can appear as late as 7 weeks later. These symptoms include: Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to Hepatitis A, or who has symptoms such as jaundice, should seek medical care.
Groups at higher risk for infection include people who have direct contact with an infected person, drug users, men who have sex with men, and people who travel to countries where Hepatitis A is common. Hepatitis A can spread quickly among homeless populations where people have less access to medical care, may be less likely to seek medical care, and may have fewer resources.
People who identify themselves as being in one of these high-risk groups, and who have not been previously vaccinated should get the Hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccine is a 2-shot series, effective if given within two weeks of exposure. Your pharmacy may be able to provide the vaccine, but you should call first to find out for certain.