skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is infection of the liver with the hepatitis A virus. About 150,000 people are infected every year in the United States. Most people recover in 2 to 6 months without serious health problems.

People with hepatitis A very rarely develop liver failure.

What Causes Hepatitis A?

The cause is the hepatitis A virus. Food (such as shellfish from polluted water) or water contaminated with infected stools (bowel movements) can spread the virus. The most common source of spread is infected food handlers who don’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom. Direct contact with infected people will pass the infection to others. Outbreaks occur most often in day care centers, military bases, and institutions for disabled. In more than 40% of cases, it isn’t known how people get infected.

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis A?

Not all people have symptoms. Symptoms may occur, usually during the first month following infection. The main symptom is jaundice (yellow skin and whites of the eyes), plus pale or clay-colored stools, dark urine, and itching all over the body. Flu-like symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, low-grade fever, and pain in the abdomen (belly) in the liver area may occur before jaundice.

How Is Hepatitis A Diagnosed?

The health care provider will do a physical examination and a blood test to show antibody to the virus. The antibody is a substance made by the immune, or infection-fighting, system. Liver function tests will also be much higher than normal.

How Is Hepatitis A Treated?

No specific treatment exists. Most people can be cared for at home. Proper rest for several days after diagnosis is important. During this time, intimate contact with other people should be avoided. The diet should be balanced and include high-calorie foods. People who come in close contact with the infected person and who have not been previously vaccinated should be given immune serum globulin within 2 weeks of exposure by their physician.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Hepatitis A:

  • DO get plenty of rest and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • DO make sure to wash your hands if you have hepatitis or care for someone who does, especially if you contact fecal material.
  • DO use separate or disposable eating and drinking utensils.
  • DO wash your hands properly after changing a diaper and before doing anything else if you work in a day care center. Restaurant workers should always wash their hands properly.
  • DO use proper protection, such as gloves and eyeglasses, if you’re exposed to fecal material and other body fluids on the job.
  • DO call your health care provider if you were exposed to someone with hepatitis A or you have symptoms of the disease.
  • DO call your health care provider if your hepatitis symptoms don’t go away within 4 weeks.
  • DON’T drink alcohol. Avoid substances that may hurt the liver.

Contact the following sources:

  • Hepatitis Foundation International
    Tel: (800) 891-0707
  • American Gastroenterological Association
    Tel: (301) 654-2055
  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
    Tel: (800) 891-5389

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.