Water and Hepatitis

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Many people who attend college or begin work in the medical field may recall having to be vaccinated for hepatitis. Hepatitis A is the seventh most reported infectious disease in the United States, with over 180,000 cases per year. Ranging in unrelated levels from A to E, hepatitis is the broad term for inflammation of the liver. The viruses that cause both A and E can be transmitted via water.

Among other infectious causes, hepatitis A and hepatitis E are associated with inadequate water supplies and poor sanitation and hygiene. Hepatitis starts with a rapid onset of fever, body weakness, appetite loss, nausea and abdominal discomfort. This could be followed by jaundice within a few days. The disease may range from mild (lasting one to two weeks) to severe disabling disease (lasting several months). In areas highly endemic for hepatitis A, most infections occur during early childhood. The majority of cases may not show any symptoms and nearly all patients recover completely with no long-term effects. However, those over 50 have a more likely chance of having a serious illness result.

Hepatitis A is contagious, and can actually live for a long time in warm environments- about three to four hours. The most common way to catch this is through the fecal-oral route, meaning the virus found in the stool of an infected person can be transmitted through the mouth of another. Aside from food, it can also be transmitted through food, which would happen if an infected person doesn't wash his hands after wiping, and then makes dinner. This is why hepatitis A is prevalent in areas with poor water supply and in people with poor hygiene. If water suppliers are limited, less emphasis is placed on washing hands. The disease can also be transmitted sexually and through IV drug use. In fact, many outbreaks occur among communities of drug users. It is also important to note that outbreaks also occur at daycare centers and homes for the elderly- diaper changing on multiple people means having to wash hands very frequently.

The one good thing about hepatitis A is that like the chickenpox, it is rare to catch it twice; the body builds up a defense. Adequate and clean water supplies is the best way to combat this disease. Also, educating on the importance of washing hands- sounds obvious- is crucial in areas of poor sanitary conditions.

FYI: Other types of hepatitis (B, C) are not transmitted through the water. Hepatitis B, like A, can pass in a few weeks. Hepatitis C turns into a chronic illness in more than half the cases, and this is the form of hepatitis that is linked to "life in the fast lane" meaning heavy drug use and multiple sexual partners.

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