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Hepatitis A Basics

CDC offers information on hepatitis A for both healthcare providers and the public, some of which is excerpted here. For more information, click the provided CDC links.

Hepatitis A FAQs for Health Professionals

Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public – CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis provides answers to questions about hepatitis A. We list some of the most common questions and answers. Find more questions and answers on the CDC Web site.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is 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 fecal matter—even in microscopic amounts—from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person.

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is usually spread when the hepatitis A virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces (or stool) of an infected person. A person can get hepatitis A through:

  • 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
    • Hepatitis A can be spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus (this can include frozen or undercooked food.) This is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. The food and drinks most likely to be contaminated are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. In the United States, chlorination of water kills hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply.

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 those who:

  • Travel to or live in countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men.
  • Use illegal drugs, whether injected or not.
  • Have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia.
  • Live with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • Have oral-anal sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Some people with hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:

  • 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)

How will I know if I have hepatitis A?

A doctor can determine if you have hepatitis A by discussing your symptoms and taking a blood sample.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There are no special treatments for hepatitis A. Most people with hepatitis A 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. Alcohol should be avoided.

Can hepatitis A be prevented?

Yes. 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 hand washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

What is the hepatitis A vaccine?

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. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that is produced in response to a virus invading the body. These antibodies are then stored in the body and will fight off the infection if a person is exposed to the virus in the future.

Who should get vaccinated against hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for:

  • All children at age 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.