Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. There is no evidence that this form of hepatitis progresses to a longstanding (chronic) form. Hepatitis A does not progress to cancer of the liver as it may with chronic forms of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.


Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus enters the body through the mouth by unclean (contaminated) food or water. Once in the body, viral infection begins in the bowel and spreads to the liver, causing illness.


Most cases of hepatitis A are mild and cause few problems. Many people may not even realize they are sick. Others may feel tired, have nausea and vomiting, lose their appetite, have a low-grade fever, or experience pain under the ribs on the right side of the belly. Later on, symptoms may include dark-colored urine, light-colored bowel movements, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), or itchy skin. Hepatitis A can sometimes become severe and some symptoms may last for weeks.


Your caregiver can do a blood test to see if you have the disease.


Hepatitis A usually resolves on its own over several weeks. There is no specific treatment for the disease once the virus has caused infection. It is important for the infected person to get plenty of rest and not return to work or school until fever is gone, appetite returns, and skin and eyes are no longer yellow. It is also important to avoid drinking alcohol and taking any medicine not prescribed or approved by your caregiver.


Giving human immunoglobulin following exposure will help prevent or lessen the severity of the illness. This is only effective if given within 2 weeks following exposure.

Hepatitis A vaccine is available and highly effective in preventing hepatitis A when given both before and after exposure to this infection. In the U.S., this vaccine is currently recommended as a substitute for human immunoglobulin within 2 weeks following exposure to the virus as well as for the following people before exposure:

  • All children beginning at age 1 year.

  • Children ages 2 to 18 in states and communities with existing vaccination programs.

  • International travelers to all areas where hepatitis A remains a problem.

  • Men who have sex with men.

  • Injection drug users.

  • People with chronic liver disease due to any cause.

  • People receiving clotting factor concentrates.

  • People who work with the hepatitis A virus in research lab settings.


After becoming infected with the HAV, there will be a 2 to 6 week incubation period before getting sick. There will be shedding of the virus in the stool within 10 to 14 days of the infection. Because of the passing of viral particles in the stool, good hygiene will help prevent the spread of this disease.

  • Frequent hand washing following use of the bathroom and before handling food or water is encouraged.

  • This infection is contagious. Follow your caregiver's instructions in order to avoid spread of the infection.

  • People who live with you should receive the hepatitis A vaccine.

  • Do not take any medicines, including common nonprescription medicines, until you ask your caregiver if it is okay.


  • You are unable to eat or drink.

  • Nausea or vomiting starts or continues.

  • You feel confused.

  • Jaundice becomes more severe.

  • You become very sleepy or have trouble waking up.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.