Hepatitis A is caused by a virus. It can be found in stool (poop) of people with the infection. The virus can pass to the hands after using the bathroom. The virus can then spread from the hands to other objects or food. Washing hands after using the bathroom will remove the virus from the hands and stop the spread of virus.
The virus may also be spread through:
- Drinking water that has had contact with raw sewage
- Food that has the virus—more likely when food is not cooked well
- Raw or partly cooked shellfish that has had contact with raw sewage
- Sexual contact with someone with the virus—especially with oral-anal contact
Things that may raise the risk of hepatitis A:
- Having close contact with an infected person
- Oral-anal sexual contact with an infected person
- Travel to or time spent in a country where:
- Hepatitis A is common, or
- Sanitation is poor
- Being homeless
- Working in a lab that works with hepatitis A virus
- Working as a childcare worker—who changes diapers or does toilet training
- Being in an institution, jail, or prison
- Use of illegal drugs
Hepatitis A does not always cause symptoms. When present, symptoms may include:
- Loss of hunger
- Belly pain, nausea, or vomiting
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin
- Darker colored urine (pee)
- Loose or light-colored stools (poop)
Hepatitis A often goes away on its own within 2 months. There are no lasting effects in most people once the infection passes. Those who have the virus and recover will be protected from future infection.
The goals of treatment are to:
- Ease discomfort
- Prevent spreading the virus to others
- Avoid medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or alcohol that can stress the liver.
Some infections can be severe but this is very rare. A liver transplant may be needed for these infections.
To help lower the risk of hepatitis A:
- Wash hands often with soap and water.
- Wash hands before eating or making food.
- Avoid using utensils that a person with hepatitis A may have used. Make sure all utensils are cleaned well.
- Avoid sexual contact with a person with hepatitis A until they are cured.
- Avoid injected drug use. Do not share needles.
- If traveling to a high-risk region:
- Use bottled water for drinking. Use it for cooking, washing food, and brushing teeth.
- Do not use ice chips.
- Eat well-cooked food.
Some may have a higher risk of infection. A doctor may suggest:
- Immune (Gamma) Globulin—can protect from hepatitis A for about 3 to 6 months. It must be given before contact with the virus or within 2 weeks of contact.
- Hepatitis A vaccine—creates full protection 4 weeks after the first shot. A second shot will improve long-term protection.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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