The hepatovirus genus is a group of viruses within the picornavirus family. Today, there is only a single known hepatovirus, the virus which causes Hepatitis A in humans. Hepatitis A is a liver disease which usually spreads through poor hygiene and in rare cases can be fatal, particularly among elderly victims.
The picornaviruses, or more properly the Picornaviridae, are a diverse group of very small RNA viruses (the name literally means "small RNA virus") which cause everything from the common cold and the stomach flu to foot-and-mouth disease and, in this case, Hepatitis A. Each picornavirus has an unusually short strand of genetic coding, with just 7000 to 9000 base pairs (compared with perhaps twice that for influenza, and the several billion base pairs which make up human DNA). This family is then further subdivided into a dozen groups known as genera (the plural form of genus, a common term in taxonomy). The Hepatovirus genus currently contains only a single species, the Hepatitis A virus (HAV).
Hepatitis A spreads through poor hygiene practices, and in particular through contaminated water and food. However, it can also be spread through close personal contact, including sexual contact. In many cases symptoms are mild or nonexistent (in which case treatment is unnecessary), but the virus does infect the liver and can cause fatigue, nausea, reduced appetite, fever, and (due to liver dysfunction) darkened urine and yellowed skin, known as jaundice. The disease is a slow one, running its course in anywhere from several weeks to several months. There is a preventative vaccine available which may be administered to people at high risk of complications, but once the disease is contracted, unfortunately there is no real treatment beyond relieving and learning to live with the symptoms. Eventually the body's immune system clears up the infection on its own.
Previously, the Hepatovirus genus also contained a second, recently identified virus known as Avian Encephalomyelitis Virus (AEV). Avian encephalomyelitis is an infectious illness which affects turkeys, chickens, and several other bird species (but not humans), resulting in poor balance control, shaking, or even paralysis. AEV was subsequently reclassified in its own genus, Tremovirus, leaving the Hepatovirus group with just a single member.
If you believe you have been exposed to Hepatitis A virus and have symptoms of the illness, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor. He or she can make a diagnosis and/or offer professional medical advice tailored to your specific situation.
- Sources and More Information -
Mayo Clinic. "Hepatitis A."
Merck Veterinary Manual. "Avian Encephalomyelitis: Introduction."
National Institutes of Health. "Hepatitis A: MedlinePlus."