Hepatitis A is the most common and the least dangerous form of viral hepatitis. It is caused by the virus HAV. It almost always heals on its own and causes no permanent damage.
It is highly recommended that people with HIV be immunized against hepatitis A and B, as the illness causes great strain on the liver. Sometimes, if the immune system is weak, the body does not react sufficiently to the vaccine and so the immunization must be repeated with a higher dose.
A few weeks after infection, flu-like symptoms appear. They may include fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, muscle and joint pain. Typical symptoms are also a feeling of pressure under the right-hand side of the ribcage and an aversion to fatty food and alcohol.
As the illness progresses, the urine often becomes dark and stools become light-colored. A yellowing of the skin and eyes is common, often accompanied by itchiness. After a few weeks the infection heals on its own.
Hepatitis A mostly occurs in warmer countries where hygiene is not as good as in Germany. It is often transmitted by unclean water and foodstuffs such as vegetables, fruit, mussels and ice cream. This form of transmission does not usually occur in Germany. Therefore hepatitis A is also called "travel hepatitis".
Infection is also possible during sex, especially if there is direct contact between the mouth and anal area. But the virus can also find its way to the mouth indirectly, via the hands, for example.
You can be vaccinated against hepatitis A. The vaccine is usually given together with a vaccine against hepatitis B. The illness also conveys immunity: if you have been infected with hepatitis A once, you cannot be infected again. Condoms do not really reduce the risk of a hepatitis A infection.
Hepatitis A is identified by testing for the presence of antibodies against the virus in the blood.
There is no treatment available for the virus itself. Only the symptoms, such as pain, can be treated.
Liver-damaging substances such as alcohol, drugs and unnecessary medications should be avoided during hepatitis A illness.