Hepatitis A

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus which is found in the stool (bowel movement) of an infected person. It rarely causes long-term damage or death.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A.  This type of transmission is called "fecal-oral." For this reason, the virus is more easily spread in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or where good personal hygiene is not observed.

Most infections result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has hepatitis A.  Casual contact, as in the usual office, factory, or school setting, does not spread the virus.

What are the symptoms?

Persons with hepatitis A virus infection may not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. Older persons are more likely to have symptoms than children.  If symptoms are present, they usually occur abruptly and may include:

  • Tiredness
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of skin & eyeballs (jaundice)
  • Nausea

Symptoms usually last less than 2 months; a few persons are ill for as long as 6 months. The average incubation period for hepatitis A is 28 days (range: 15–50 days).

Who is at risk for hepatitis A?

  • People who live with or have sex with an infected person.
  • Children and staff of child care centers where a child or employee has hepatitis A.
  • Residents and staff of centers for disabled children when a child or employee has hepatitis A.
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common and where there is little clean water or proper sewage disposal.

Is there a cure?

No. There is no medicine for hepatitis A once you have it.

How can hepatitis A be prevented?

  • Always wash hands after using the bathroom.
  • Always wash hands after cleaning the toilet.
  • Always wash hands after changing diapers.
  • Always wash hands after handling soiled towels or linens.
  • Always wash hands before fixing food or eating.
  • If exposed to hepatitis A, ask doctor about immune globulin.
  • If traveling to areas where hepatitis A is common:
    • get vaccinated before travel;
    • drink bottled beverages; and

do not eat uncooked fruits or vegetables, unless you peel them yourself.