Hepatitis A (Infectious Hepatitis)
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a disease caused by the hepatitis A virus that results in inflammation of the liver.
Hepatitis used to be known as infectious hepatitis.
In children the disease is usually mild, but most adults who develop hepatitis are sick enough to miss four to six weeks of work.
Who gets hepatitis A?
Anyone can get hepatitis A. It is usually transmitted from person-to-person.
How is the virus spread?
- The hepatitis A virus is found in the feces (stool) of people who have the disease and is usually spread by the fecal-oral route.
- Hepatitis A may be spread by food prepared or handled by a person with the disease who does not wash his/her hands carefully.
- Hepatitis A may be spread by water contaminated with human feces or by consuming raw oysters.
- It may also be spread by close personal contact (household or sexual) and by changing the diaper of an infected child.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
The first symptoms are usually:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
This is usually followed by dark colored urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).
In general, the severity of illness increases with age and children under age three may not have symptoms, though they can still spread the infection.
Most people feel better after one to two weeks but may continue to feel tired for a few more weeks.
How soon do symptoms appear?
Usually the first symptoms appear about four weeks after exposure, but they can develop anytime between two and seven weeks after exposure to the virus.
How long do hepatitis A symptoms last?
Symptoms usually last less than two months, although some people (10 percent – 15 percent) with hepatitis A can have symptoms for as long as six months.
How long can a person with the disease spread the virus?
People are most infectious in the two weeks before their symptoms appear and remain somewhat infectious about one week after jaundice.
People can spread hepatitis A even if they have no symptoms, especially children.
Can a person get hepatitis A again?
After one infection with hepatitis A, a person cannot get it again. However, there are different types of viral hepatitis, and infection with hepatitis A will not protect against other types of hepatitis.
What is the treatment for hepatitis A?
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. People who have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A who have been exposed to the virus should talk to a health care provider about getting the hepatitis A immunization or a shot of immune globulin to prevent severe illness.
Rest, adequate nutrition and fluids are recommended by health care providers. People with hepatitis A should also avoid alcohol, drugs, or medicines (including aspirin and Tylenol). Some people might need medical care in a hospital.
It can take a few months before people with hepatitis A start to feel better.
What should I do if I was exposed to hepatitis A?
If you were recently exposed to hepatitis A virus and have not been vaccinated against it, you might benefit from an injection of either immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine. However, the vaccine or immune globulin must be given within the first two weeks after exposure to be effective. A health care professional can decide what is best on the basis of your age and overall health.
How can the spread of hepatitis A be stopped?
- Children should be taught to wash their hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom.
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before preparing food is very important.
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- Get a hepatitis A vaccine. Children in Nevada who attend public or private school are required to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the vaccine for anyone who wants to be protected against the infection, especially for the following:
- All children at age one year
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual encounters with other men
- People who use recreational drugs, whether injected or not
- People with unstable housing or who are homeless
- People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
To be fully immunized, a person needs a second injection of vaccine six to 12 months after the first injection.
Where can I get more information?
Contact your health care provider or the Southern Nevada Health District Office of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance at (702) 759-1300.
For additional information about hepatitis A, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Hepatitis A Questions for the Public webpage.
Updated on: May 2, 2019