One of the three commonest forms of hepatitis, Hepatitis A finds its causes in the feces of an infected person. The hepatitis A infection is typically spread via water or food.
Also known as HAV, hepatitis A is most often food-borne. It can come from drinking contaminated water; eating raw or undercooked shellfish; consuming lettuce greens from a field where hepatitis A-infected workers have defecated; or having direct contact with a person who has hepatitis A, even if there are no symptoms.
A person is more likely to contract the HAV if he or she:
Has a child in a care center, or works in one
Travels or works in regions with high rates of the disease
Is male, homosexual, HIV positive, and practices oral-anal sex
Consumes, or injects, illicit drugs
Lives with a person who has hepatitis A, or has sex with a hepatitis victim
Has a blood-clotting disorder like hemophilia or Von Willebrand disease
Eats food handled by a hepatitis sufferer who has not washed after using the bathroom
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Hepatitis A virus contamination of a food product can occur at any point during cultivation, harvesting, processing, distribution or preparation.”
Surprisingly, most food-borne hepatitis A outbreaks have come from restaurant workers and food caterers. In fact, according to CDC estimates, a single, hepatitis A-infected food handler can transmit the disease to hundreds of individuals, and cost the nation’s public health system close to a million dollars per episode.
Nor can the public count on transparency in the industry. In one instance, almost 60 percent of food handlers infected with hepatitis A had worked during the time they were actively contagious. To make matters worse, almost 50 percent of reported cases of hepatitis A in the United States from 1990 to 2000 were of unknown origin.