What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is the only common foodborne disease preventable by vaccine. It is one of five hepatitis viruses that infect the liver. Hepatitis A is rare in the United States, with 30,000 to 50,000 cases occurring each year.
The virus travels in feces, and can spread from person to person, or can be contracted from food or water. In cases of contaminated food, it is usually the person preparing the food who contaminates it. The food handler will probably not know they have the virus, since the virus is most likely to be passed on in the first two weeks of illness, before a person begins to show symptoms.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A infection?
Symptoms of hepatitis A infection usually appear around 28 days after infection, but can start as early as two weeks after exposure to the virus. Only 30 percent of children with hepatitis A actually develop symptoms. Early symptoms of hepatitis A infection include muscle aches, headache, jaundice, fever, loss of appetite, weakness, and fatigue.
After a few days of experiencing these symptoms, 70 percent of patients develop jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Jaundice also causes dark urine and light, clay-colored feces.
Symptoms usually last less than two months, although they sometimes last up to six months, and jaundice can linger for up to eight months. Patients can also experience severely itchy skin for a few months after symptoms first appear. Most patients fully recover.
An acute hepatitis A case can develop into Fulminant Hepatitis A. This is a rare but severe complication of Hepatitis A, in which the toxins from the hepatitis virus kill an abnormally high number of liver cells (around ¾ of the liver’s total cells), and the liver begins to die. Fifty percent of patients with this condition require an immediate liver transplant to avoid death. Fulminant hepatitis A can also cause further complications, including muscular dysfunction and multiple organ failure.
You can learn more about hepatitis A food poisoning at FoodborneIllness.com.