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Hepatitis A

hepatitisa1.jpgHepatitis A is one of five human hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E) that primarily infect the liver and cause illness. An estimated 80,000 cases occur each year in the U.S., although much higher estimates have been proposed based on mathematical modeling of the past incidence of infection. Each year, an estimated 100 persons die as a result of acute liver failure in the U.S. due to hepatitis A, but the rate of infection has dramatically decreased since the hepatitis A vaccine was licensed and became available in the U.S. in 1995.

Hepatitis A is a communicable (or contagious) disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Food contaminated with the virus is the most common vehicle transmitting hepatitis A. The food preparer or cook is the individual most often contaminating the food, although he or she is generally not ill at the time of food preparation. The peak time of infectivity, when the most virus is present in the stool of an infectious individual, is during the two weeks before illness begins. Although only a small percentage of hepatitis A infections are associated with foodborne transmission, foodborne outbreaks have been increasingly implicated as a significant source of hepatitis A infection.

Hepatitis A may also be spread by household contact among families or roommates, sexual contact, ingestion of contaminated water, ingestion of raw or undercooked fruits and vegetables or shellfish (like oysters), and from persons sharing illicit drugs. Children often have asymptomatic or unrecognized infections and can pass the virus through ordinary play to family members and other children and adults.

Symptoms of hepatitis A Infection

Hepatitis A infection may cause no symptoms at all when it is contracted, especially in children. Such individuals will only know they were infected (and have become immune ñ you can only get hepatitis A once) by getting a blood test later in life. The incubation period (from exposure to onset of symptoms) is 15-50 days, with an average of 30 days. Many children and most adults will experience the sudden onset of flu-like symptoms. After a day or two of muscle aches, headache, anorexia (loss of appetite), abdominal discomfort, fever and malaise, jaundice (also termed icterus) sets in. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes that occurs because bile flows poorly through the liver and backs up into the blood. The urine will turn dark with bile and the stool will be light or clay-colored from lack of bile. When jaundice sets in, the initial symptoms begin to subside.

In general, the period of acute illness lasts from 10 days to three weeks, at which time affected individuals tend to recapture some sense of wellness. It is not unusual for blood tests to remain abnormal for six months (or more), prolonging recovery for up to a year. Most affected individuals show complete recovery within three to six months of the onset of illness. Relapse is possible, and although more common in children, it does occur with some regularity in adults.

Diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis A

There are blood tests widely available to accurately diagnose hepatitis A; blood samples are tested for hepatitis antibodies, which are present when the immune system responds to the hepatitis virus. Antibodies of the immune globulin (Ig) M variety, which indicate acute disease, and IgG antibodies, which stay positive for life, should both be measured.

Hepatitis A infection is an acute self-limiting disease. There is no specific treatment; treatment and management is merely supportive. The liver function tests generally improve as the affected individual begins to feel better. It is therefore well accepted that the need for rest is best determined by the person’s own perception of the severity of fatigue or malaise.

Preventing hepatitis A Infection

Hepatitis A infection is totally preventable. Ill food-handlers should be excluded from work. Commercial food workers and other individuals who prepare food for others must always wash their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before preparing food. Cooking food to a temperature of 185∞F or higher will inactivate hepatitis A.

After a known exposure to hepatitis A, administration of a shot of immune globulin should be considered. If administered within two weeks of the exposure, it will usually be effective in preventing or at least ameliorating the disease.

Hepatitis A vaccine is the best protection from hepatitis A infection. The vaccine is recommended for persons traveling to areas with increased rates of hepatitis A, men who have sex with men, injecting and non-injecting drug users, persons with blood clotting factor disorders (such as hemophilia), persons with chronic liver disease, and children living in regions of the U.S. with increased rates of hepatitis A. The vaccine may also help protect household contacts of those with hepatitis A infection. Vaccination of food handlers would likely substantially diminish the incidence of hepatitis A outbreaks. The vaccine is licensed for individuals aged two and older, but there is good evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective at one year of age.

References

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Fiore AE, Wasley A, Bell BP. (2006). Prevention of hepatitis A through active or passive immunization: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep.55(RR-7):1-23.

Bialek SR, Thoroughman DA, Hu D, Simard EP, Chattin J, Cheek J, Bell BP. (2004). Hepatitis A Incidence and Hepatitis A Vaccination Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, 1990–2001. Am J Public Health. 94(6):996-1001.

Bownds L, Lindekugel R, Stepak P. (2003). Economic impact of a hepatitis A epidemic in a mid-sized urban community: the case of Spokane, Washington. J Community Health. 28(4):233-246.

Butot S, Putallaz T, Sánchez G. (2008). Effects of sanitation, freezing and frozen storage on enteric viruses in berries and herbs. Int J Food Microbiol. 126(1-2):30-35.

Calder L, Simmons G, Thornley C, Taylor P, Pritchard K, Greening G, Bishop J. (2003). An outbreak of hepatitis A associated with consumption of raw blueberries. Epidemiol Infect. 131(1):745-751.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009a). Disease Burden from Viral Hepatitis A, B, and C in the United States. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/PDFs/disease_burden.pdf).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009b). Surveillance for Acute Viral Hepatitis—- United States, 2007. Surveillance Summaries. 58 (SS03):1-27.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009c). Hepatitis A. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Atkinson W, Wolfe S, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, eds. 11th ed. Washington DC: Public Health Foundation, pp. 85-97.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009d). Updated recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for use of hepatitis A vaccine in close contacts of newly arriving international adoptees. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 58(36):1006-7.

CDC (2007). Update: Prevention of Hepatitis A after Exposure to Hepatitis A Virus and in International Travelers. Updated Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR. 56(41);1080-1084.

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Feldman, M, Friedman, LS, Sleisenger, MH. (2002). Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 7th ed. [2-volume set]. St. Louis, MO: Saunders. 80: 1571.

Fiore, AE. ( 2004). “Hepatitis A Transmitted by Food.” Clinical Infectious Diseases. 38:705-715.

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Hutin YJF, Pool V, Cramer EH, et al. (1999). A multistate, foodborne outbreak of hepatitis A. N Engl J Med. 340:595–602.

Jaykus L. (1997). Epidemiology and Detection as Options for Control of Viral and Parasitic Foodborne Disease. Emerg Infect Dis. 3(4):529-539.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Hepatitis A. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-a/DS00397.

Piazza M, Safary A, et al. (1999). Safety and immunogenicity of hepatitis A vaccine in infants: a candidate for inclusion in the childhood vaccination program. Vaccine. 17:585-588.

Rawls RA and Vega KJ (2005). Viral Hepatitis in Minority America. J Clin Gastroenterol. 39:144–151.

Sagliocca L, Amoroso P, et al. (1999). Efficacy of hepatitis A vaccine in prevention of secondary hepatitis A infection: A randomized trial. Lancet. 353:1136-39.

Scharff RL, McDowell J, Medeiros L. (2009). Economic Cost of Foodborne Illness in Ohio. J Food Prot. 72(1):128-136.

Schiff ER. (1992). Atypical Manifestations of hepatitis-A. Vaccine. 10(Suppl. Vol. 1): 18-20.

Taylor R, Davern T, Munoz S, Han S-H, McGuire B, Larson AM, et al. (2006). Fulminant hepatitis A virus infection in the United States: incidence, prognosis, and outcomes. Hepatology. 44:1589-1597.

Todd EC, Greig JD, Bartleson CA, Michaels BS. (2009). Outbreaks where food workers have been implicated in the spread of foodborne disease. Part 6. Transmission and survival of pathogens in the food processing and preparation environment. J Food Prot. 72(1):202-219.

Wheeler C, Vogt TM, Armstrong GL, et al. (2005). An Outbreak of Hepatitis A Associated with Green Onions. N Engl J Med. 353: 890-897. 

Willner IR, Uhl MD, Howard SC, Williams EQ, Riely CA, Waters B. (1998). Serious hepatitis A: an analysis of patients hospitalized during an urban epidemic in the United States. Ann Intern Med. 128:111-114.

  • jocko

    Very informative and acurate

  • Luke

    Europe has found Hepatitis E in pig meat. Since the pigs are confined like living sardines (with or WITHOUT gestation crates) and they share (live in) each others’ feces and urine, it’s easy to spread from pig to pig.
    See article:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070903205004.htm
    “Hepatitis E In Europe: Are Pigs Or Pork The Problem? Hepatitis E virus is one of the few viruses which has been shown to be transmitted directly from animals through food. It was recently thought to be confined to developing countries, and although scientists are still unsure exactly how it spreads to people, direct contact with pigs or eating contaminated pork products is a likely route.” (QUOTED in part).
    Interesting to note Hepatitis is a special virus that has a hard coating that is resistant to freezing and ordinary cooking.

  • http://www.hepatitismagazine.com/ sisca

    what can you suggest to reduce the side effects of hepatitis A treatment? like nausea,dark urine, depression, etc