Hepatitis A

Definition

Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver from the hepatitis A virus.

Causes

The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stool 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

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.

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam, which may show that your liver is enlarged and tender.

Blood tests may show:

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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 no lasting damage once you've recovered. Also, you can't get the disease again. There is a low risk for death. The risk is higher among older adults and people with chronic liver disease.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis.

Prevention

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 toilet 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:


Review Date: 10/22/2017
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Internal review and update on 01/19/2019 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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