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Alert Issued in Kerala After Hepatitis A Outbreak: How Does it Spread?

Hepatitis A can lead to fatality, but is also easily treated and prevented, say experts.

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Alerts have been issued in four districts in Kerala – Malappuram, Ernakulam, Kozhikode, and Thrissur – amid an ongoing outbreak of hepatitis A in the state.

"Directions have been issued to strengthen grassroots-level action plans in these districts," Kerala Health Minister Veena George told the press.

Cases of hepatitis have been on the rise in Kerala since January this year, and 12 deaths linked to the highly contagious liver infection have been reported so far.

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What is Happening in Kerala?

According to the state health department, the number of hepatitis A cases recorded in Kerala so far this year is already higher than any other year in the past.

Speaking to FIT, Dr Sanjiv Saigal, Principal Director & Head, Liver Transplant and Biliary Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, Delhi, explains, "Hepatitis A virus (HAV) infects the liver through faeco-oral route which mainly spreads through the consumption of contaminated foods and drinks."

To bring the situation under control, the Kerala health department has called for closer checks on water and food sources.

"Water sources in all affected areas will be chlorinated, and restaurants have been told to supply only boiled water. Eateries will be inspected to ascertain whether all employees have mandatory health cards," added the health minister.

According to a government statement, Chaliyar and Pothukallu areas in Malappuram, one of the worst-hit districts, have drawn up action plans by assessing the prevention and awareness activities undertaken in these areas.

Symptoms and Treatment: More about Hepatitis A

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by a variety of infectious viruses. Hepatitis itself has five known strains – A, B, C, D, and E. Of these, A, B, and C are the most common.

Symptoms of hepatitis A typically include:

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhoea

  • Nausea

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Dark-coloured urine

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)

Dr Punit Singla, Director, Institute of Liver Transplant & HPB Surgery, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Gurugram, tells FIT that because hepatitis A spreads through contaminated food, "it is generally self limiting and restricted to a local area, and most patients also get treated with medication."

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Dr Saigal explains that hepatitis A is mostly self-limiting and most people tend to recover fully.

He adds,

"Most people in India are exposed to hepatitis A as children and end up seropositive for the virus by adulthood. Once you're infected, you generally don't get it again."

However, it must be noted that while HAV typically causes mild to moderate illness, it can be fatal.

How to Prevent and Protect Against Hepatitis A

Local outbreaks of hepatitis A are common in India oweing to lax food safety standards and a lack of clean drinking water.

To combat this, India has the 'National Viral Hepatitis Control Program' in tandem with the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan.

According to Dr Saigal, the most effective way to prevent hepatitis is to get vaccinated. "We don't recommend the vaccine for adults, but it is effective when taken in childhood."

Apart from vaccination, the following precautions can help prevent infection, especially if you live in an area where there is an outbreak.

  • Make sure your source of drinking water is clean. Drink boiled and filtered water only, if possible.

  • Ensure proper disposal of sewage within communities.

  • Keep up personal hygiene practices like regular handwashing, especially before meals and after using the toilet.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Kerala   Hepatitis A 

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