Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A virus is usually found in the stool (bowel movement) of people who have the infection. Note: It's not found in everybody, only those who have the infection. It is spread by:
- Putting something in your mouth that has been infected with the hepatitis A virus
- Drinking water contaminated by raw sewage
- Eating food contaminated by the hepatitis A virus, especially if it has not been properly cooked.
- Eating raw or partially cooked shellfish contaminated by raw sewage
- Sexual contact with a partner infected with the hepatitis A virus (particularly anal sex). Anal sex has an especially high risk, but all kinds of sexual intercourse can spread the disease.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
- Close contact with an infected person (Note: the virus is generally not spread by casual contact.)
- Using household items that were used by an infected person, but were not properly cleaned.
- Sexual contact with multiple partners
- Sexual contact with a partner who has hepatitis A
- Traveling to or spending long periods of time in a country where hepatitis A is common or where sanitation is poor
- Injecting drugs, especially if you use shared needles
- Childcare workers who change diapers or toilet train children
- Children in daycare centers
- Institutionalized patients
- Hemophiliacs receiving plasma products
Hepatitis A does not always cause symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Darker colored urine
- Light or chalky colored stools
- Muscle pain
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
- Blood test–to look for hepatitis A antibodies (These are proteins that your body has made to fight the hepatitis A virus.)
- Liver function studies
- Liver biopsy–removal of a sample of liver tissue to be examined (only in severe cases)
There are no specific treatments for hepatitis A. The goals of hepatitis A treatment are to:
- Keep the patient as comfortable as possible
- Prevent the infection from being passed to others
- Prevent more liver damage by helping the patient avoid substances (medications, alcohol) which might stress the liver while it's healing
The disease generally will go away without treatment within 2-5 weeks. However, about 15% of people who are infected by hepatitis A will have relapsing symptoms for up to 9 months. In almost all cases, once you recover, there are no after effects, and you are immune to the virus.
In rare cases, hepatitis A infection will be so severe that a liver transplant may be needed.
Proper Sanitary Habits
Immune (gamma) Globulin
- Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food.
- Carefully clean all household utensils after use by a person infected with hepatitis A virus.
- Avoid using household utensils that a person infected with hepatitis A may touch.
- Avoid sexual contact with a person infected with hepatitis A.
- Avoid injected drug use, especially with shared needles.
- If you travel to a high risk region, drink bottled water, and avoid ice chips, wash the fruits well, and eat well-cooked food.
This is a preparation containing antibodies that provides temporary protection from hepatitis A (about 1-3 months). It must be given:
Hepatitis A Vaccine
- Before exposure to the virus or
- Within two weeks after exposure to the virus
This vaccine is made from inactive hepatitis A virus, and is highly effective in preventing infection. It provides full protection four weeks after the first injection. (The hepatitis vaccine takes a month to become fully effective.) A second injection provides protection lasting up to 20 years.
The vaccine is recommended for:
- People who have a chronic liver disease or a clotting factor disorder
- People who have close physical contact with people who live in areas with poor sanitary conditions
- People traveling to countries where sanitary conditions are poor
- Children who live in areas that have repeated hepatitis A epidemics
- People who inject illicit drugs
- Men who have sex with men
Check with your doctor to see if you should receive the vaccine, and if so, when and how many injections you should have.