Last content update: 2/9/24
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A virus is usually spread through the “fecal-oral” route. If a person with hepatitis A does not wash their hands well after going to the bathroom, the virus can get on objects, food, or drinks. Someone else can be infected if they put these items into their mouth. Learn more about hepatitis A.
What can you do?
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is getting the hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is safe and effective and is recommended for people who fall into the following groups:
- Children, at age 1 year
- Pregnant people at risk for hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- People who use or inject drugs (including all people who use illegal drugs)
- People experiencing homelessness
- International travelers
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
- People at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A infection, such as:
- People with chronic liver disease, including infection with hepatitis B or C
- People with HIV
Talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis A vaccine.
In addition to vaccination, consistent and thorough handwashing with soap after going to the bathroom and before preparing or eating food helps protect you from hepatitis A.
If you are a food worker, you should never touch food with bare hands. You should carefully wash your hands after using the bathroom, even if you do not feel sick. Food workers should never work while they are sick with stomach illnesses.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis A, call your doctor. Your doctor may give you a vaccine to protect you.
More about hepatitis A
People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. However, people with liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B or C infection, are at greater risk of developing serious health issues such as liver failure. People over 50 years old are also at greater risk of serious illness. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause a chronic infection.
How is hepatitis A virus spread?
Hepatitis A is very contagious, and people can spread the virus even before they feel sick.
The hepatitis A virus lives in the feces (poop) and blood of people who are infected. It is spread when someone ingests (swallows) the virus, which usually happens when someone puts something in their mouth that has virus particles on it. These particles can get on objects or food when a person with hepatitis A goes to the bathroom and does not wash their hands well afterwards, then touches objects or prepares food or drinks.
Hepatitis A can also spread through close, personal contact with an infected person, such as taking care of someone who is sick or having sex.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Most people infected with the hepatitis A virus develop symptoms. Symptoms may include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools (poop)
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)
If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
How soon after exposure to hepatitis A will symptoms appear?
If symptoms occur, they usually appear about 28 days after exposure, but can occur 15 to 50 days after exposure.
- Hepatitis A Information (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))
- Hepatitis A Information (California Department of Public Health (CDPH))
- Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public (CDC)
- Preventing Foodborne Illness (County of Santa Clara Consumer Protection Division)
- Food Safety Program (County of Santa Clara Consumer Protection Division)