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Hepatitis A

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.

What are the symptoms?

People infected with Hepatitis A may have no symptoms or they may experience a range of symptoms such as: nausea, fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, and loss of appetite. If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure and typically last less than 2 months. Some people can be ill for as long as 6 months. 

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 when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food. Also, parents or caregivers who do not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person can spread the disease. Sexual contact with an infected person can spread Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is common in many countries 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. Both frozen and undercooked foods are often contaminated with Hepatitis A in these areas.

How can Hepatitis A be prevented?

The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children, travelers to certain countries, and people at high risk for infection with the virus.

Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of Hepatitis A. If you travel to a country where Hepatitis A is common, use bottled water and avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish that may have come from a contaminated water source.

What should I do if I think I have been exposed to Hepatitis A?

If you think you think you have been exposed to hepatitis A, see a health care provider right away. Your health care provider may recommend that you receive an injection of Hepatitis A vaccine and/or immune globulin as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or post-exposure protection. PEP should be given within two weeks of being exposed to Hepatitis A.

References and Additional Information