Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver. It can be passed easily from contaminated food, water, or close contact with an infected person.
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Hepatitis A is caused by a specific virus. It may be spread by: Drinking water contaminated by raw sewageEating food contaminated by the hepatitis A virus, especially if it has not been properly cookedEating raw or partially cooked shellfish contaminated by raw sewageSexual contact with a partner infected with the hepatitis A virus, especially as oral-anal contact
Hepatitis A is present in stool of people with the infection. They can spread the infection if they do not wash their hands after using the bathroom and touch other objects or food.
Factors that increase your chance of a hepatitis A infection include: Having close contact with an infected person—although the virus is generally not spread by casual contactUsing household items that were used by an infected person and not properly cleanedHaving oral-anal sexual contact with an infected personTraveling to or spending long periods of time in a country where hepatitis A is common or where sanitation is poorWorking as a childcare worker, changing diapers or toilet training childrenBeing in daycare centersBeing institutionalizedInjecting drugs—especially if you share needlesReceiving plasma products, common in conditions like hemophilia
Hepatitis A does not always cause symptoms. Adults are more likely to have them than children.
Symptoms include: TirednessLoss of appetiteFeverNausea and vomitingAbdominal pain or discomfortYellowing of the eyes and skinDarker colored urineLight or chalky colored stoolsRash
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: Blood test—to look for signs of hepatitis ALiver function studies
Hepatitis A usually goes away on its own within two months. There are no lasting effects in most once the infection passes.
The goals of hepatitis A treatments are to: Help you stay as comfortable as possiblePrevent the infection from being passed to othersPrevent stress on the liver while it's healing. Mainly done by avoiding certain substances like specific medications or alcohol
You will be immune to the virus once you are well.
In rare cases, the infection is very severe. A liver transplant may be needed in these cases if the liver is severely damaged.
To decrease your chance of hepatitis A: Wash your hands often with soap and water.Wash your hands before eating or preparing food.Avoid using household utensils that a person with hepatitis A may touch.
Make sure all household utensils are carefully cleaned.Avoid sexual contact with a person with hepatitis A.Avoid injected drug use. If you do, do not share needles.
If you travel to a high risk region, take the following precautions:
Drink bottled waterAvoid ice chipsWash fruits wellEat well-cooked food
Medical treatments that may help prevent infection include: Immune (Gamma) Globulin—temporary protection from hepatitis A. It can last about 3-6 months. It must be given before exposure to the virus or
within two weeks after exposure.Hepatitis A Vaccine—highly effective in preventing infection. It provides full protection four weeks after the first injection. A second injection provides long-term protection.
The vaccine should be considered for:
All children aged 12-23 monthsChildren aged 24 months or older who are at high risk and have not been previously vaccinated
People traveling to areas where hepatitis A is prevalent (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Traveler's Health website
shows which areas have a high prevalence of hepatitis A.)
Men who have sex with menInjection drug usersPeople who are at risk because of their job, such as lab workersPeople with chronic liver disease
People with blood-clotting disorders, such as
hemophiliaPeople who will have close contact with an adopted child from a medium- or high-risk areaPeople who desire immunity to hepatitis A
Check with your doctor to see if you should receive the vaccine.
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Hepatitis A. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated December 19, 2012. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/A/aFAQ.htm#overview. Updated September 17, 2009. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Hepatitis A vaccine. What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-hep-a.pdf. Accessed February 20, 2012.
What I need to know about hepatitis A. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at:
http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hepa_ez/index.aspx. Updated December 19, 2012. Accessed February 20, 2013.
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Last reviewed March 2014 by David L. Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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