What You Need to Know About the Deadly Hepatitis A Outbreak

Carina Rossi

Hepatatis A outbreaks are on the rise across the US, with California, Utah, and Michigan being hit especially hard. As it stands, there have been dozens of deaths related to the contagious infection, with hundreds of individuals reporting outbreak-related sicknesses, reports CNN. Officials speculate there are thousands more carrying the infection unbeknownst to them.

We spoke to Dr. Ginni Mansberg to find out the best way to protect yourself from the highly contagious infection and to better understand the warning signs that you may already be infected.

First, check if you've been vaccinated.

You can find out your immunization status with a quick call or visit to your doctor. Dr Ginni admits a lot of people will be immune to this already, in particular people who have had travel shots. "If you're the type of person who visits the doctor to get your shots before you travel to a destination like South America or Asia, you should have already been vaccinated against hepatitis A," says Dr Ginni.

If you've been vaccinated once, you're immune forever.

If you're absolutely sure you've had the full vaccination (two jabs in 12 months) against hepatitis A, you're good for life. "Once you've been immunized, you've got a lifetime course, so there's no need to find out when your last vaccine was," says Dr. Ginni. "If you've had the full vaccination against hepatitis A, lucky you: you're immune! You don't have to worry."

If you haven't been immunized, don't wait for symptoms.

If you haven't been vaccinated against hepatitis A, the worst thing you can do is wait for the symptoms to show. According to Dr. Ginni, you're not going to want to get this, so don't wait for the symptoms to come to you. "The symptoms can be hard to treat - you don't want to get it," says Dr. Ginni. "You're likely to recover from it, but you'll go through six weeks of hell on your way to recovery." It's easy to detect, so if you think you've been infected, visit your doctor immediately to get a blood test.

So what are the symptoms?

Symptoms come on between two and seven weeks (with an average of four weeks) from the time the infection enters your body. So waiting for the symptoms means you could be waiting up to seven weeks! Dr. Ginni admits the symptoms aren't pleasant, comparing it to a really bad gastro virus. "Expect tummy cramps, nausea, fever, and diarrhea," says Dr. Ginni. "Then a few days later - because it's a problem with your liver - you'll start to get jaundice, which means yellow skin and yellow eyes."

How is hepatitis A transmitted?

Now for the gross part . . . hepatitis A is transferred through fecal matter, in particular via the fecal-oral route. For example: if someone with hepatitis A fails to wash their hands thoroughly (with soap, for a minute, under running water) after going to the toilet, the virus can spread to any uninfected person who then comes into contact with anything the infected person has touched - think food, drinks, cutlery, even handles.