Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease caused by the HAV virus. The virus is found in the feces of people with the disease and is most frequently transmitted by eating food or drinking water handled by someone who has not properly washed their hands. It also can be transmitted by sex and by illicit drug use.
Some of the most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or eyes. It can take 15 to 50 days to show symptoms of the infection; however, an infected person is most contagious during the two weeks before their skin turns yellow.
Most people recover from the virus and are immune to further infection, according to the CDC, but some can develop liver failure that leads to death. That is most common in people with compromised immune systems, those older than 50 and those with other liver diseases.
According to the CDC, the hepatitis A virus is very hard to kill and can live for months outside the body. Hand sanitizers are not effective against the virus, so frequent handwashing is critical to controlling any outbreak.
Outbreaks of hepatitis A are normally small; rates have declined 95% since the vaccine became available in 1995. GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are the only companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration to sell a hepatitis A adult or pediatric vaccine in the US.
The current outbreaks of hepatitis A, virus genotype IB, is normally not found in the US; it’s more common to the Mediterranean, Turkey and South Africa. However, the current vaccine is effective against all strains of the virus.