Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is one of the many types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect how your liver works.
You are most likely to get hepatitis A from contaminated food or water, or from close contact with an infected person or object. Mild cases of hepatitis A do not require treatment. Most infected people make a full recovery without causing permanent liver damage.
Good hygiene, including frequent hand washing, is one of the best ways to protect yourself from hepatitis A. Vaccines are available for the most vulnerable.
The signs and symptoms of hepatitis A usually don’t appear until you’ve been infected with the virus for a few weeks. But not all people with hepatitis A develop it. If you do, the signs and symptoms of hepatitis may include:
Sudden nausea and vomiting
Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the upper right side under your lower ribs (through your liver)
Clay colored stool
Loss of appetite
Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects liver cells and causes inflammation. Inflammation can affect the way your liver works and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis A.
The virus most commonly spreads when you eat or drink something contaminated with feces, even in small amounts. It is not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Here are some of the specific ways the hepatitis A virus can spread:
Eating foods handled by someone with the virus who does not wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet
Drink contaminated water
Eat raw shellfish from sewage-polluted water
Be in close contact with an infected person – even if that person has no signs or symptoms
Having sex with someone who has the virus
You are at an increased risk of developing hepatitis A if you:
Travel or work in areas of the world where hepatitis A is common
Visit childcare or work in a daycare center
Living with another person who has hepatitis A.
Are a man who has sex with other men
Any kind of sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.
Are HIV positive
Have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia
Use any type of illegal drug (not just injected ones)
The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection with the virus. The vaccine is usually given as two injections. The first is followed by a recall six months later.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend hepatitis A vaccine for the following people:
Any child 1 year old or older who did not receive the child vaccine
Anyone 1 year or older who is homeless
Babies aged 6 to 11 months travel abroad
Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
People in direct contact with others with hepatitis A.
Laboratory personnel who may come into contact with hepatitis A.
Men who have sex with men
People who work or travel to parts of the world where hepatitis A is common
People who use all kinds of illegal drugs, not just injecting drugs
People with bleeding disorders.