With 124 confirmed cases -- 18 in Yakima alone  -- the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A is cause for some alarm. The number is expected to climb in the forthcoming weeks and months as the virus takes up to seven weeks to incubate, causing carriers to be unwitting and thusly spreading it to others. The disease affects the liver and can be deadly. Just what is it and how you can avoid it might be on your mind.

According to the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Hep A has the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Sudden nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially on the upper right side beneath your lower ribs (by your liver)
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Intense itching

"Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects liver cells and causes inflammation. The inflammation can affect how your liver works and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis A.

The virus most commonly spreads when you eat or drink something contaminated with fecal matter, even just tiny amounts. It does not spread through sneezing or coughing."

Here are some of the specific ways the hepatitis A virus can spread:

  • Eating food handled by someone with the virus who doesn't thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage
  • Being in close contact with a person who's infected — even if that person has no signs or symptoms
  • Having sex with someone who has the virus