What Is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus can easily be passed from one person to another and is usually spread through food or drinks contaminated with fecal matter (stool). While hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection that does not cause lasting liver damage, the infection can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.
How Is Hepatitis A Spread?
You can get hepatitis A:
- By swallowing food or drink contaminated with the hepatitis A virus
- Through oral or anal sex
- By touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus, then putting your hands in your mouth
- Recreational drug use
Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis A?
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, in the United States, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as:
- People with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
- People who are homeless
- People who are incarcerated
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis A?
Some people get hepatitis A and have no symptoms of the disease. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they can appear abruptly and can include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
How Is Hepatitis A Diagnosed and Treated?
A doctor can determine if you have hepatitis A by discussing your symptoms and taking a blood sample.
Unvaccinated people with recent exposure (within 2 weeks) to the hepatitis A virus should get the hepatitis A vaccine or shot of immune globulin to prevent severe illness.
There are no special treatments for hepatitis A. To treat the symptoms, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids. Some people will need medical care in a hospital.
How Can Hepatitis A Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.
The hepatitis A vaccine is a shot of inactive hepatitis A virus that stimulates the body's natural immune system. After the vaccine is given, the body makes antibodies that protect a person against the virus.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for:
- All children at 1 year
- Travelers to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs
- People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates
- People who work with hepatitis A infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory
The hepatitis A vaccine is given as 2 shots, 6 months apart. The hepatitis A vaccine also comes in a combination form, containing both hepatitis A and B vaccine, that can be given to persons 18 years of age and older. This form is given as 3 shots, over a period of 6 months.
The hepatitis A vaccine is safe. No serious side effects have resulted from the hepatitis A vaccine.
Where Can I Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?
If you are at higher risk for contracting hepatitis A: