Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver causing a variety of symptoms. It causes the liver to swell and stops it from work functioning normally.
The hepatitis A virus (HAV) has an incubation period of about 28 days (range of 15–50 days). The virus replicates in the liver and is shed in high concentrations in feces from 2 weeks before to 1 week after the onset of symptoms.
Infection with the hepatitis A virus produces a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection or chronic liver disease. (Infections with the hepatitis B and C viruses can lead to chronic liver problems)
However, 10%–15% of patients might experience a relapse of symptoms during the 6 months after acute illness.
Infection by the hepatitis A virus results in lifelong immunity against future infections.
In the U.S., nearly half of all reported Hepatitis A cases have no specific risk factor identified. International travelers are at risk of developing hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A is spread by close personal contact with someone else who has the infection. You can get hepatitis A by:
- Eating food that has been prepared by someone with hepatitis A
- Drinking water that has been contaminated by hepatitis A (in parts of the world with poor hygiene and sanitary conditions)
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A
Some people infected with hepatitis A do not develop any symptoms, but others experience severe and prolonged symptoms, similar to having the flu (influenza). Symptoms may include the following:
- Feeling tired
- Feeling sick to your stomach
- Having a fever
- Not wanting to eat
- Stomach pain
Some people have:
- Dark yellow urine
- Light-colored stools
- Yellowish eyes and skin
See your doctor if you have these symptoms or think you might have hepatitis A.
How is hepatitis A treated?
Most people who have hepatitis A get well on their own after a few weeks.
You may need to rest in bed for several days or weeks, and you won't be able to drink alcohol until you are well. The doctor may give you medicine for your symptoms.
How can I protect myself from the hepatitis A virus?
Getting the hepatitis A vaccine is the most effective step for preventing hepatitis A infection.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children at age 1 year, for persons who are at increased risk for infection, for persons who are at increased risk for complications from Hepatitis A, and for any person wishing to obtain immunity.
Adults require a full series of shots to become fully immunized. If you are traveling to other countries, make sure you get all the shots before you go. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis A in these ways, too:
- Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before fixing food or eating.
- Wear gloves if you have to touch other people's stool. Wash your hands afterwards.
- Drink bottled water when you are in another country. (And don't use ice cubes or wash fruits and vegetables in tap water.)