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Hepatitis A: Causes, Symptoms & Risk Factors

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Read this lesson to learn how the virus is transmitted as well as learn about the symptoms of this condition.

On the Trail

Out to accomplish one of the biggest personal goals of his life, Sam is half done hiking the mountain range spanning multiple states. He makes occasional stops to gather supplies and take a shower, but these last few weeks on the trail have been challenging. His resources are dwindling, and he is having difficulty finding clean water supplies.

Now that summer is in its prime, the scorching sun is slowing Sam down and making him incredibly thirsty. He forgoes all of his precautionary measures to purify the water from any contaminants or infectious debris. Since he has run out of water cleansing tablets and is too thirsty to boil the water prior to drinking it, he sticks his face in the stream and has his fill. Within a few weeks, Sam begins to feel ill as if he has the flu. He is barely able to make it into a public health clinic to find the cause of his symptoms.

What is Hepatitis A?

Stumbling into the clinic, it is clear that Sam does not feel well. Blood work is drawn and the staff determined that he is in a state of liver failure caused by the Hepatitis A Virus (HAV). Known to cause inflammation or swelling and irritation to the liver, HAV can have a significant impact on a person's energy levels and ability to regulate blood clotting.

Hepatitis A is transferred when individuals come into contact with infected feces or solid waste carrying the virus. While HAV itself is rarely life-threatening, the virus can lead to complete liver failure and cause death in rare cases.

Symptoms of HAV

This individual exhibits yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice.
This individual exhibits yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice.

The blood work identifying the presence of HAV along with Sam's symptoms confirm the diagnosis. Once someone contracts HAV, symptoms may or may not appear. Symptoms are especially rare in younger children. Common symptoms of this virus include:

  • Flu-like symptoms - achiness, stiffness, fever
  • Jaundiced appearance, or yellowing of the skin, typically indicating liver disease

Sam learns that symptoms begin to develop about 2-4 weeks after exposure. Symptom management may last a period of up to 6 months until an individual can expect them to completely resolve.

Risk Factors

Thinking back to his adventures 2-4 weeks ago, Sam recalls a day where he disregarded routine safety practices when drinking stream water. The physician explains that safe water is paramount in preventing HAV and lists several other risks that increase the probability of contracting the virus:

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