What You Need to Know about Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

A contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person.

How is it spread?

A person can get hepatitis A 2 ways:

Person to person contact:

  • When an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food.
  • When a parent or caregiver does not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person.
  • When someone has sex or sexual contact with an infected person. (not limited to anal-oral contact).

Contaminated food or water

  • Eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus. (This can include frozen or undercooked food.) The food and drinks most likely to be contaminated are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. In the United States, chlorination of water kills the hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply.

Who’s at risk?

Although anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:

  • Travel to or live in countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Live with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men.
  • Use illegal drugs, whether injected or not.
  • Have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia.
  • Have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Clay-colored bowel movements.
  • Joint pain.
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes).

When do symptoms appear after exposure?

If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

How long do they last?

Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

Can a person spread Hepatitis A without having symptoms?

Yes. Many people, especially children, have no symptoms. In addition, a person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms appear.

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

By a blood test.

How is it treated?

There are no special treatments for hepatitis A. Most people will feel sick for a few months before they begin to feel better. A few people will need to be hospitalized. During this time, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids. People with hepatitis A should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, which can potentially damage the liver. Avoid alcohol.

Is hepatitis A preventable?

Yes. The best way to protect yourself is with the hepatitis A vaccination. It’s given in two doses, six months apart.

Who should get vaccinated?

  • Children ages one year and older.
  • Travelers to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • 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.

Is it effective?

Yes, the hepatitis A vaccine is highly effective in preventing infection. Protection begins approximately 2 to 4 weeks after the first injection. A second injection results in long-term protection.

How safe is the vaccine?

The hepatitis A vaccine is safe. No serious side effects have resulted from the hepatitis A vaccine. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect reported.

If a person had Hepatitis A in the past, can he/she get it again?

No. Once you recover from hepatitis A, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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