What is hepatitis a?

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A: Overview

Hepatitis A is a virus that can infect the liver. Most people who get it get better within 3 months and don't have liver problems later.

This virus is found in stool (feces). You can get it if you eat food or drink water that was in contact with infected stool. You can also get it from close contact with an infected person.

Common symptoms include feeling tired or having yellow eyes and skin (jaundice). They also include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and a severe loss of water (dehydration).

Some people don't notice any symptoms for up to 30 days. But even without symptoms, you still can give the infection to other people.

Some people get a shot if they know they were exposed to the virus in the past 2 weeks. Ask your doctor if you need a hepatitis A vaccine or an immunoglobulin shot. These may prevent getting infected with hepatitis A.

After you get hepatitis A one time, you can't get it again. But you can still get other types of hepatitis.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and yellowing of eyes. The infection usually goes away on its own without treatment and does not cause long-term (chronic) illness. Very rarely, hepatitis A can cause life-threatening liver failure.

Hepatitis A spreads when people eat food or drink water that is contaminated by stool (feces) that has the virus in it. In rare cases, the virus is spread by contact with infected blood or blood products.

You can be infected with HAV only once. After that, you have lifelong immunity to the virus and can't get the disease again. Infection can be prevented by getting immunized with the hepatitis A vaccine.

There is no treatment for hepatitis A other than rest, a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Vomiting.

Symptoms usually last about 3 months. They go away on their own in almost all cases and do not need treatment. Although hepatitis A is an infection of the liver, the disease does not lead to long-term liver problems.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. You get better on your own. You can take steps to help yourself feel better:

  • Reduce your activity level to meet your energy level.
  • Eat regular meals. If you feel sick to your stomach, eat many small meals rather than three large meals.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. Using drugs or alcohol may make the disease last longer.

How can you prevent hepatitis A?

You can get hepatitis A or give it to other people before and after symptoms are present.

To avoid getting hepatitis A:

  • Talk to your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine. People who may need it include travelers to countries where the disease is common, men who have sex with men, and people with liver disease.
  • Get the vaccine or a shot of immunoglobulin (IG) within 2 weeks of known exposure. It may prevent the disease.
  • Make sure you and your family wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after using the toilet or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.

To avoid spreading hepatitis A if you have it:

  • Tell people you live with or have sex with that you have the disease. They should see their doctor.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after you use the toilet and before you prepare or eat food.

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and where you have eaten or traveled. You may have blood tests. These tests can tell if your liver is inflamed and whether you have antibodies to the hepatitis A virus. These antibodies show that you have been exposed to the virus.

How can you care for your child who has hepatitis A?

  • Limit activity to match your child's energy.
  • Make sure that the doctor knows all the medicines your child takes. Some medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can make liver problems worse. Do not give your child any new medicines unless the doctor says it's okay.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed.
  • If your child has nausea or vomiting, try smaller meals more often.
  • Give your child plenty of fluids.
  • If your child has itchy skin, be sure your child keeps cool, stays out of the sun, and wears cotton clothes. Talk to the doctor about medicines for itchy skin.


  • Be sure your child washes hands with soap and clean, running water right after using the toilet and before eating.
  • If your child is still in diapers, wash your hands well after every diaper change.

How is hepatitis A spread?

The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread when a person eats food or drinks water that has come in contact with infected stool.

It also can be spread when someone touches items that have infected stool on them and then drinks or eats without washing their hands.

Sometimes people can get hepatitis A at a restaurant when employees who have hepatitis A don't wash their hands well after using the bathroom and then prepare food. It can also happen when a food item comes into contact with raw sewage.

The disease can also spread in day care centers. Children, especially those in diapers, may get stool on their hands and then touch objects that other children then put into their mouths. Workers can spread the virus if they don't wash their hands well after changing a diaper.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a virus that can infect the liver. Hepatitis A spreads when people eat food or drink water that is contaminated by stool (feces) that has the virus in it. The infection usually goes away on its own and doesn't lead to long-term liver problems. Rarely, it can be more serious.

Hepatitis A: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You are suddenly confused and cannot think clearly.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and pass only a little urine.
  • You have nausea and vomiting that does not go away.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.