Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is easily spread from person to person (highly contagious). It is caused by the hepatitis A virus.   

Hepatitis is a redness or swelling (inflammation) of the liver that sometimes causes lasting damage. Hepatitis A is one type of hepatitis.

In most cases, hepatitis A does not cause a long-term (chronic) infection. But it can take some time to fully get well. You may be sick for a few weeks. But it may take up to 6 months or longer to fully recover.

In rare cases hepatitis A can cause severe liver damage, leading to death.

What causes hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is often spread when the virus is taken in by mouth. This happens when you
have contact with objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by the stool of an
infected person.

This
may happen through person-to-person contact such as:

  • When an
    infected person doesn’t wash their hands well after going to the bathroom and touches
    other objects or food
  • When a
    parent or caregiver doesn’t wash their hands well after changing diapers or cleaning
    up the stool of someone who is infected
  • When you
    have sex with someone who is infected

This
can also happen if you:

  • Eat
    food made by someone who touched infected stool
  • Drink
    water that is contaminated by infected stool (a problem in developing countries)

In
rare cases, the virus may also be spread by contamination from blood and other body
fluids (blood-borne infection).  

In
most cases, normal contact in school or at work won’t spread the virus.

Who is at risk for hepatitis
A?

You
may be at high risk for hepatitis A if you travel to places where the virus is common.
These places include:

  • Africa
  • Asia
    (except Japan)
  • The
    Mediterranean basin
  • Eastern
    Europe
  • The
    Middle East
  • Central
    and South America
  • Mexico
  • Parts
    of the Caribbean

You
may also be at high risk if you:

  • Are
    living in or moving to a place in the U.S. or another country that has had 1 or more
    recorded large numbers of hepatitis A cases, or outbreaks, in the past 5years
  • Are in
    the military
  • Have
    unsafe sex  
  • Use
    illegal IV (intravenous) drugs
  • Have a
    blood disorder such as hemophilia, and need to take blood treatments
  • Work at
    a daycare center
  • Work in
    a nursing home, prison, or other type of care facility
  • Are a
    lab worker who handles live hepatitis A virus
  • Handle
    monkeys or apes (primates) that may have the hepatitis A virus
  • Are in close contact with a child recently adopted from a
    country with a medium to high rate of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is sometimes called a traveler’s disease. It is a very common disease for
travelers. But you can also get infected with hepatitis A in the U.S. In some cases
people in the U.S. have gotten the virus without having any risk factors.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis
A?

Symptoms of hepatitis A often look like flu symptoms. Each person’s symptoms may vary.
Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint
    pain
  • Extreme
    tiredness (fatigue)
  • Overall
    feeling of weakness
  • Loss of
    appetite
  • Upset
    stomach or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Belly
    (abdominal) pain
  • Dark
    urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Diarrhea

Some
adults have no symptoms. Most children have no symptoms, especially children younger
than 6 years old.

Hepatitis A symptoms can look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare
provider to be sure.

How is hepatitis A
diagnosed?

Your
healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health.

A
blood test called IgM anti-HAV is needed to be sure you have hepatitis A. This test
looks for any infection-fighting cells (antibodies) you may have against the hepatitis A
virus in your blood. If these antibodies are in your blood, that means you have
recently been infected.