What Dr. Luke has to Say about Hepatitis A

Zhang Qiong and his whole family, which included his wife and a daughter and a son, had gotten sick last week.  All of them had developed nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain. Also, several of their neighbors had also had the same problems.  They went to their local hospital to have themselves examined.  There they were notified that their local rural village had an outbreak of Hepatitis A.  Zhang Qiong and his wife had never heard of this.  They were told it was a virus, which generally gets into water or food and when people drink this contaminated water or food they can get this disease. 

Zhang Qiong and his wife both were sick for several weeks and were both unable to do their work.  Zhang Qiong worked in a factory as well as his wife. Their children were both unable to go to school for several weeks as well.  They each also had a lot of fatigue and some mild fevers, muscle aches and their eyes even turned yellow.

Zhang Qiong and his wife wanted to know more about Hepatitis A as well as their other friends who had contracted Hepatitis A and the rest of their small rural village.  None of them wanted to get sick like Zhang Qiong and his family and miss so much work.  It actually was not for up to 4-6 weeks after their first symptoms that Zhang Qiong and his whole family were feeling pretty much back to normal.

First, what causes Hepatitis A and why is it important for us to know about this disease?  Hepatitis A is caused, as already mentioned, by a virus, which is present in food and water.  It generally is transmitted between human to human.  There are no other animals that carry this virus.  Thus it can be easy to know who has it and who doesn't.  Hepatitis A is important to know about because so many people get the disease and it makes people very sick.  Fortunately most people who get the disease do not die and even after a person, like Zhang  Qiong gets the disease there is no chronic carrier state.  That is a person who gets sick from Hepatitis A will not have a chronic liver disease.

The second question is what part of the body will be affected when someone gets sick from Hepatitis A?  The liver is the organ affected. All of the symptoms are related to the liver, that is the nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, yellow eyes and so on.  Again, once the liver is infected it usually becomes normal after 4-6 weeks.  This is very good news. The liver does not stay chronically infected with the virus from Hepatitis A.

The third question is how do people like Zhang Qiong and his wife get infected with the Hepatitis A virus?  All people in the world, whether young or old, male or female, Chinese, European, American or African get infected with the Hepatitis virus from water or food which has become contaminated with the virus.  The question then becomes how does a person or food or water gets the virus?  It actually is a cycle.  The cycle goes something like this.

A person who has been infected with the virus sheds the virus out his stool.  If that stool gets into the general public water domain because it is not well disposed of then it can get into the general public water and to people's houses or a restaurant and people drink this water which is contaminated with this Hepatitis A virus.  People who cook food and have Hepatitis A can have a bowel movement and not wash their hands well.  These people can fix their food or as in a restaurant they can cook for other people.  If there hands have Hepatitis A on them, again which they can get after having a bowel movement then they can pass the Hepatitis A virus onto other people and these other people can get sick.

Hepatitis A is not the only type of sickness, which we can get which makes us sick.  There is a type of sickness, a spiritual sickness, which we all get from sin.  This sickness, unlike Hepatitis A, which neither causes chronic liver disease nor kills people, does kill people and causes chronic sickness.  What is sin?  Sin is simply going against what God wants us to do.  Or missing the mark of what God wants us to do.  You may ask how a person can miss the mark of what God wants a person to do.  Zhang Qiong asked this very question.  While he was sick in bed he and his wife picked up a Bible a friend had given them several years ago. They were trying to find some hope for their current miserable condition.

They came to a section, which spoke very clearly to their current physical condition with the Hepatitis A, and also to their spiritual condition, which was also so empty as well.  The section of the Bible they read was from a book called Romans, written about 63AD by a man named to Paul to people in the city of Rome.  Here is what Zhang Qiong and his wife read.  'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, on one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they , and have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.  The poison of vipers is on their lips.  Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3.10-18).'

This is certainly not a pretty picture of human nature.  Several points can be made about this profound statement.  First, no one wants to seek or do what is right.  Second, left to themselves all people go astray and do not even fear God himself.  Zhang Qiong and his wife did believe there was a God but did not know him.  They also believed that God was not really concerned with their lives.  They were also concerned about the corruption of life they saw in China.  Though the loved their country and the great historical heritage China had.  They continued to talk and wonder how to come to know God and if there was really any way out of the predicament, which the book of Romans presented.  They certainly thought that passage had a lot of truth in it.  How could they understand God better and come to know him? How could they please him?  What were the results of not pleasing God?  They had these and many of questions.  Before Dr. Luke answers these questions let us go back to talking more about Hepatitis A and how it can be prevented and treated.

First, let us talk about treatment.  There is really no treatment for acute Hepatitis A.  Recall there is only acute Hepatitis A, which only lasts for 4-6 weeks.  After that the disease goes away on its own.  Currently in the world there is not any treatment for acute Hepatitis A.  That is there is no medicine, whether Chinese Traditional or Western medicine, which can kill the virus in the first few weeks after a patient, gets infected.  Certainly this would be good, as it would allow patients like Zhang Qiong to keep working and not miss so much work.  The treatment given for acute Hepatitis A is supportive.  That is giving medicine for diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms, which they have.  This is important as many patients with acute Hepatitis A get very sick and do not feel well.  Most do not have to put in the hospitalized however, some do as they get dehydrated from so much nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. Though this is very rare.  Usually the rare person who has to be hospitalized can be let out of the hospital in several days and rarely need to be in the hospital for more than a week.

Now let us talk about prevention, because this disease, i.e. acute Hepatitis A is totally preventable.  How is this so. Recall as we have already said that Hepatitis A is transmitted from one person to another.  One person has the disease and other people either drinks contaminated water or food.  So how can Hepatitis A be prevented?  First, and most important is for all people after they use the toilet and either urinate or have a bowel movement to wash their hands.  This is the most important thing to know about Hepatitis A, which is after a person has used the toilets to wash their hands.  If everybody did this then Hepatitis would rarely spread even if people had Hepatitis A.  Washing hands with warm soapy water causes the Hepatitis A virus to die so if someone is cooking or touches a plate then they will not put that virus into the food or onto plates and cups or other types of utensils. 

A custom in China is for all of the people to eat from the same pot of food.  This is considered too polite.  Thus the same people at the table put their chopsticks in the same pot of food.  This is a nice social custom but if a person has Hepatitis A then they can get the virus from other people at the same table who have Hepatitis A.  One may say, that person with the Hepatitis A should  have symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  This is not necessarily so.  People with Hepatitis A start shedding the virus two weeks before they have symptoms.  That is they are infectious and can pass the Hepatitis A virus onto other people two weeks before ones symptoms starts.  Thus, if you are eating with other Chinese and one has had Hepatitis A for just one week they can put the chopsticks in their mouth, then put the chopsticks, which now has Hepatitis A on it back into the main pot and contaminate other food which another person at the table picks up when they put their chopsticks into the common pot.   This is a very common way of spreading Hepatitis A in China.  In fact medical experts think up to 90% of all Chinese have been exposed to Hepatitis A in their lifetime.

Someone may ask, if I have been exposed to Hepatitis A will I or can I get infected again in the future.  The answer is no.  That infection, that is just one, will give you lifelong protection against anymore Hepatitis A.

There is also a vaccine, which can be used.  This vaccine has been available for about 4-5 years.  You can buy it and use in China but it is expensive and thus not used much.  In the United States and some other western countries it is being used a lot more now.  The vaccine is given once and in a year a booster is given which should give a person life time protection.  The vaccine is safe and effective.  Most major cities in China should have this vaccine.  This vaccine prevents a person totally from ever having Hepatitis A.

Let us go back to discussing the matter of the sickness people get from sin.  Zhang Qiong and his wife wondered if there was something to prevent them from having such a despairing life without God.  How could they come to know God? How could they come to love God and know him? What difference would knowing him make in their lives?  They had these and many other questions.  They continued to read in the book of Romans for any answers to their many questions.

Zhong Qiong and his wife came across this passage which spoke to some of their questions about God.  The Bible says it like this, 'But now a righteousness from God…has been made known to you…This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…He presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement through His blood…He did this to demonstrate his justice (Romans 3.21-26).'  They also read 'for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6.23).'  These were amazing statements and spoke to their needs.  God wanted to make them right before him.  But since in their sins they were helpless to do this, they could turn to faith in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.  They also saw that the result of sin was death but the gift, that is salvation through Jesus Christ is a free gift, is eternal life. Not eternal death. This was a great message to them. 

They then heard on a radio program about how to have eternal life.  The broadcaster said, 'if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God had raised him from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10.9).'  Zhang Qiong and his wife both believed this.  They believed that Jesus was the Lord God of the universe and Lord of their lives.  They also believed that Jesus had died on the cross for their sins and after that they had been raised to new life.  They now had peace with God.