Hepatitis A

General information about hepatitis A, including symptoms, complications, tests, and treatment.

On this page:
What is hepatitis A?
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
What are the complications of hepatitis A?
Is there treatment for hepatitis A?
How is hepatitis A diagnosed?
How is hepatitis A spread to others?
Who gets hepatitis A?

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis A?

What can be done to prevent the spread of hepatitis A to others?
What should I do if I have been exposed to hepatitis A?

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What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Some people have very severe symptoms and other people have no symptoms at all. Children generally have no symptoms.

If symptoms occur, onset is usually sudden and includes fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and nausea. Dark (tea or cola-colored) urine, light-colored feces (stool), and yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice) may appear a few days later. Jaundice occurs more often in adults than in children.

Hepatitis A does not become a chronic (long-term) infection.

What are the complications of hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A can sometimes cause a severe, sudden and overwhelming infection of the liver (fulminant hepatitis). Fulminant hepatitis A causes about 100 deaths per year in the United States. Persons who are at highest risk for this complication are those who have other liver diseases.

Is there treatment for hepatitis A?

There are no specific medications to treat hepatitis A.

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

A blood test can determine whether a person is infected with hepatitis A.

How is hepatitis A spread to others?

Hepatitis A is spread by a virus found in the feces (stool) of a person who has hepatitis A. A person gets infected when the hepatitis A virus gets into his or her mouth. Some common ways this can happen are:

  • When eating or drinking contaminated food or beverage.
  • When placing contaminated toys or other things in the mouth.
  • During some sexual activities.

Children may pass the virus to family members or caregivers without ever having symptoms.

A person with hepatitis A can spread the disease beginning two weeks before symptoms develop until one week after the onset of jaundice. If a person does not have jaundice, he or she can spread the disease for two weeks after the onset of symptoms.

Symptoms develop two to seven weeks (usually about one month) after exposure to hepatitis A.

Who gets hepatitis A?

Anyone of any age can get hepatitis A. Many people do not know where they got the infection. People who are at increased risk of getting hepatitis A are:

  • Household contacts of infected persons.
  • Sexual contacts of infected persons.
  • Persons, especially children, living in areas with increased rates of hepatitis A.
  • Persons traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Injecting and non-injecting drug users

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis A?

Yes, a vaccine is available for anyone 12 months of age and older who wants to be protected against hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is recommended for all children at 12 months of age.

What can be done to prevent the spread of hepatitis A to others?

Vaccine is the best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

Careful hand washing after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, and before preparing or eating food will help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

What should I do if I have been exposed to hepatitis A?

For healthy persons 12 months - 40 years of age, hepatitis A vaccine may be given to stop the onset of symptoms in persons exposed within the previous two weeks.

For children under 12 months of age and persons over 40 years of age, Immune Globulin (IG) may be given to stop the onset of symptoms in persons exposed within the previous two weeks.