Viral hepatitis; Infectious hepatitis
Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver from the hepatitis A virus.
If you have noticed lately you feel weak and itch, have a loss of appetite, dark urine, and a low-grade fever, you may be suffering from symptoms of hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is irritation and swelling of the liver from infection with the hepatitis A virus. The virus is usually found in the stools and blood of an infected person. You can catch hepatitis A if you eat or drink food or water contaminated by feces containing the virus. Fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common culprits. You can also catch the disease if you come into contact with the blood or stool of a person who has hepatitis A, when a person who has the disease and doesn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom touches other objects or food, or if you have sex that involves oral to anal contact. Risk factors also include international travel, especially to Asia or South or Central America, IV drug use, living in a nursing home, or working in a health care, food, or sewage industry. So, what do you do about hepatitis A? Symptoms will show up about two to six weeks after you are exposed to the virus. As stated, you may well have dark urine, feel weak, have itching, a loss of appetite, a low-grade fever, feel nauseous, and have yellowish skin. The symptoms are usually mild, but they may last for up to several months. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may discover that you have an enlarged, tender liver. Blood tests can confirm you have hepatitis A. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Your doctor will recommend that you rest when your symptoms are at their worst. You should also avoid alcohol and anything else that is toxic to the liver, such as acetaminophen, or Tylenol. Keep in mind that eating fatty foods may cause you to vomit, because your liver helps process fats from your body. The good news is the hepatitis A virus does not remain in your body after the infection has gone, but you do need to maintain good bathroom habits to keep from spreading the disease. Typically, you will recover in about three months, but some people do need six months to get better. If you have recently been exposed to hepatitis A and have not had hepatitis A before or have not received the hepatitis A vaccine series, ask your doctor or nurse about receiving either immune globulin or the hepatitis A vaccine.
The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stools and blood of an infected person. The virus is present about 15 to 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.
You can catch hepatitis A if:
Not everyone has symptoms with hepatitis A infection. Therefore, many more people are infected than are diagnosed or reported.
Risk factors include:
Other common hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is the least serious and mildest of these diseases.
Symptoms most often show up 2 to 6 weeks after being exposed to the hepatitis A virus. They are most often mild, but may last for up to several months, especially in adults.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam, which may show that your liver is enlarged and tender.
Blood tests may show:
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
The virus does not remain in the body after the infection is gone.
Most people with hepatitis A recover within 3 months. Nearly all people get better within 6 months.
There is a low risk of death. The risk is higher among older adults and people with chronic liver disease.
Call your provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis.
The following tips can help reduce your risk of spreading or catching the virus:
The virus may spread more rapidly through day care centers and other places where people are in close contact. Thorough hand washing before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom may help prevent such outbreaks.
Ask your provider about getting either immune globulin or the hepatitis A vaccine if you are exposed to the disease and have not had hepatitis A or the hepatitis A vaccine.
Common reasons for getting one or both of these treatments include:
Vaccines that protect against hepatitis A infection are available. The vaccine begins to protect 4 weeks after you get the first dose. You will need to get a booster shot 6 to 12 months later for long-term protection.
Travelers should take the following steps to protect against getting the disease:
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommended Immunization Schedule for Adults Aged 19 Years or Older United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(4):91-92. PMID: 25654609
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015; 64(4):93-94. PMID: 25654610
Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Update: Prevention of hepatitis A after exposure to hepatitis A virus and in international travelers. Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2007;56:1080-1084. PMID: 17947967
Pawlotsky JM. Acute viral hepatitis In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 148.
Sjogren MH, Bassett JT. Hepatitis A. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 78.
Victor JC, Monto AS, Surdina TY, et al. Hepatitis A vaccine versus immune globulin for postexposure prophylaxis. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1685-1694. PMID: 17947390
Last reviewed on: 10/27/2015
Reviewed by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.