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What Is Hepatitis A? | by heidi


 


Hepatitis A is a contagious viral infection that affects the liver. The hepatitis A virus causes an infection that can be easily spread from person to person through fecal contamination. It can be prevented by a vaccine. This article will explain its transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.1

Person with yellowed eyes as seen in hepatitis A infection

Hepatitis A Transmission

Hepatitis A primarily spreads when you come in contact with the stool of a person who has the virus, and it enters your body through your digestive system—often through contaminated food or water. This is known as the fecal-oral route of transmission.


This infection is very contagious, which means it spreads easily.1 It takes only microscopic amounts of contamination to spread the virus, so you will often be unaware that you have been exposed.


Transmission of the virus can happen by:2

Eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis A who did not wash their hands

Drinking water or eating food washed in water that is contaminated with the virus 

Having close personal contact with a person who has hepatitis A 

Having oral-anal sex with a person who has hepatitis A

Using drugs with a person who has hepatitis A

You have a higher risk of getting hepatitis A if you:3 

Visit developing countries 

Are experiencing homelessness

Use illegal drugs 

Care for a person with hepatitis A 

Live with a person with hepatitis A 

Are a man who has sex with men

Symptoms 

You may not have symptoms right away or at all. Symptoms usually show up two to seven weeks after you are infected. Usually, symptoms last up to two months, but some people may have them for six months.4

Common symptoms of hepatitis A include:4

Fever 

Nausea

Vomiting

Loss of appetite 

Stomach pain 

Fatigue

Joint pain 

Dark urine 

Light-colored stools 

Diarrhea 

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

 Symptoms and Complications of Hepatitis

Diagnosis  

To diagnose hepatitis A, your healthcare provider will:4

Ask about your medical history and symptoms 

Ask about your travel history 

Do a physical exam 

Order a blood test to look for antibodies (blood proteins produced by the immune system) to the hepatitis A virus

 How Hepatitis Is Diagnosed

Treatment 

Although there are no specific medications or treatments to cure hepatitis A, you may need to:4

Rest

Drink more fluids

Eat nutritious foods

Manage nausea  

Avoid alcohol

Before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, supplements, or herbal remedies, talk to your healthcare provider. Some of these can further impair your liver and can lead to complications.4


You will also need to take care not to spread the hepatitis A virus while you have the condition. Don't prepare food or drink for other people. Be diligent in washing your hands after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food. It's best to avoid close contact with other people, especially for the three weeks after you start to have symptoms.4

Prognosis 

Most people make a full recovery and do not have any complications. Rarely, some people may have liver failure, which is more likely to happen if they:4

Are over the age of 50

Have another liver disease 

Prevention  

The hepatitis A virus is hardy, and it can remain contagious for months outside of the body. Freezing does not kill it, but high temperatures do. Heat food or water to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for at least one minute before cooling to make it safe to eat or drink.


The hepatitis A vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. Children between the ages of 12 months and 23 months receive a hepatitis A vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have not received the hepatitis A vaccine.4 

Other ways to prevent infection include: 

Washing your hands with soap and water

Using bottled water when traveling in developing countries 

Not eating at street vendors when traveling in developing countries

Not eating raw or peeled fruits and vegetables when traveling in developing countries

Summary 

Hepatitis A is a virus that spreads easily and affects your liver. Some people may not have any symptoms. Others develop symptoms such as fever, nausea, and jaundice that can last for two months. There is no specific treatment other than supportive measures. The hepatitis A vaccine can help prevent this infection.  

A Word From Verywell

If you think that you may have hepatitis A, talk to a healthcare provider right away to get tested. It is important to know if you are infected, so you can take precautions and prevent others from getting sick. 

If you have hepatitis A, follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for recovery. Most people can make a full recovery over time and have no complications. 

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