Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information about hepatitis A outbreaks among drug users and homeless people in certain U.S. cities. Dr. Stacey Rizza, a Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist, says the virus causes inflammation of the liver, and is transmitted from person to person via an oral-fecal route, meaning it's most likely caused by something you put in your mouth that's been contaminated with feces.
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Water and food contaminated with feces: That's how the hepatitis A virus spreads, causing infection and inflammation of the liver.
"It tends to be something that somebody eats or puts into their mouth with their hands, and then develops symptoms," says Dr. Rizza. "It is a self-limited infection in contrast to some other viral hepatitis, meaning you get very sick, but you eventually clear the infection without treatment because, unfortunately, there is no treatment for hepatitis A."
Dr. Rizza says symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea and jaundice, which cause your eyes and even skin to look yellow. Certain groups of people have a higher risk.
"In people who live in homeless facilities, or who are on the street or associating with a bunch of people who are in those areas, hygiene is not always good," Dr. Rizza says. "So it's easy to transmit the infection amongst a group who may be in close contact."
IV drug users could be at risk if they lick needles before use. You can cut your risk of getting hepatitis A with good hygiene, hand-washing and the hepatitis A vaccination.