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It made the headlines: celebrities exposed to Hepatitis A at a catered party.  Just what is hepatitis A and what happens if you get it?

Here’s the quick answer: Hepatitis A can make you pretty sick and in people over 50 it can be deadly.

Hepatitis in general is an inflammation of the liver caused by a bacterial or viral infection, drugs, toxins or parasites.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is characterized by sudden onset of fever, malaise, nausea, loss of appetite, and upset stomach followed in several days by jaundice.   Jaundice is yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes and urine that turns dark. 

Most people recover on their own after a few weeks and then are protected for life but 10 percent of patients have relapsing symptoms that can last six months.   And while three out of a thousand die, the fatality rate is 6 times higher in people over 50.

The virus can be spread easily if precautions aren’t taken.  That’s what happened in Hollywood where stars ate food handled by a catering staff, one of whom had Hep A. Since the virus is found in the feces of infected people, foods can be contaminated without proper hand washing. The most common sources are contaminated water, shellfish and salads.

You should take steps to protect yourself and avoid infecting others. Get the hepatitis A vaccine; always wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating or fixing food; wear gloves if you have to touch other people's stool and wash your hands afterwards.

If you’re traveling to a foreign country and you’re unsure about the water quality, drink bottled water. Also avoid ice cubes or fruits and vegetables washed in tap water.  Hepatitis A can be easy to control if everyone follows these few simple rules. 

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For more information...

The University of Arizona has some Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips  and information about Hepatitis A here.

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House has extensive information on all Hepatitis viruses with links to additional resources here. They also provide easy to read publications available in English and in Spanish here

The Centers for Disease Control has much more information including maps, hepatitis A rates and information about the vaccine in English and in Spanish here.



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