What You Need to Know
Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A virus is transmitted through the “fecal-oral” route. If a person with hepatitis A does not wash their hands well after going to the bathroom they can contaminate objects, food, or drinks. Someone else can be infected when they put these items into their mouth.
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to prevent hepatitis A.
In addition to vaccination, consistent, thorough hand washing after going to the bathroom and before preparing or eating food is the most effective way to prevent getting hepatitis A.
More about Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A virus infection can cause a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. People with liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B or C infection, are at greater risk of developing severe disease as a result of hepatitis A infection. People over 50 years old are also at greater risk of developing severe disease. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause a chronic infection.
How is hepatitis A virus spread?
Hepatitis A virus is usually spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. Transmission typically occurs when someone with hepatitis A infection goes to the bathroom and does not wash their hands well afterwards so that tiny particles of stool containing the virus contaminate objects, food, or drinks and then can be spread to others. For this reason, the virus can spread in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or where good personal hygiene is not observed.
Most infections in the United States result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has hepatitis A. Hepatitis A virus can also be spread by consuming food or drink that has been handled by an infected person.
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
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)
If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor to be evaluated.
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.
Can hepatitis A be prevented?
Yes. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for people who fall into the following groups:
- History of incarceration
- Substance use
- Chronic liver disease, including infection with hepatitis B or C
- Men who have sex with men
- People traveling to countries that have high or intermediate levels of HAV transmission
- Children, at age 1 year
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where Hepatitis A is common
- People with clotting-factor disorders
Frequent, thorough handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of 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 have any questions about potential exposure to hepatitis A, call your healthcare professional. If you were exposed to hepatitis A virus and have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis A vaccination can prevent developing hepatitis A if it is given within the first two weeks after exposure. If you are not sure if you have been vaccinated, get the vaccine. A second dose is recommended in six months to help ensure that the vaccine is effective in the future. If you have chronic liver disease, a weakened immune system, or you are over 40 years old you might benefit from an injection of immune globulin (antibodies to help fight hepatitis A). A healthcare professional can help decide whether the vaccine, immune globulin, or both are best on the basis of your age and health.
To learn more about hepatitis A, please visit:
More information for Healthcare Providers:
More information for the Media:
More information for food service workers:
Handwashing procedure and employee illness reporting from the Department of Environmental Health