Hepatitis is swelling or inflammation of the liver which can be caused by a variety of factors. Hepatitis A is a specific type of hepatitis which is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is a contagious disease which means it can spread from one person to another. A mild case of HAV may last only a few weeks while a more serious case can last several months.
The most common way to catch the Hepatitis A virus is by taking fecal matter (stool or poop) into your mouth. It only takes a tiny amount of contamination to transfer the virus. There are two general ways the virus can be transferred.
• An infected person can share the virus if he does not wash his hands after using the bathroom. Tiny bits of contamination can be left on objects such as doorknobs or other things he touches or can get into food that he prepares.
• A parent or caregiver can contract the virus or pass it on to others if she does not wash her hands after changing a diaper, emptying a bedpan, or helping clean someone who is infected.
• Certain types of sexual activity with an infected person, especially oral-anal contact, can pass on the virus.
Food or water
Another way to catch the Hepatitis A virus is by eating or drinking something that is contaminated with the virus. This is a greater danger in countries where Hepatitis A is more common and in areas with poor sanitary conditions. Chlorination kills the Hepatitis A virus in water in the United States.
The number of cases of Hepatitis A virus in the United States is going down, in part due to the availability of a vaccine to prevent people from catching the virus. A vaccine is a shot that helps the body build up defenses against a particular virus, such as the flu.
The Hepatitis A vaccine is a “killed” or “inactive” vaccine. This means there is no live virus in the vaccine, so you cannot get Hepatitis A by taking the vaccine. The HAV vaccine will only protect you from Hepatitis A. Anyone who gets this vaccine is still able to get other kinds of hepatitis.