What Is Hepatitis A?

By Michele C. Hollow @YourCareE
June 26, 2023
What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis means inflammation in your liver. It’s a curable viral infection that can be mild or severe. Here's what you should know about hepatitis A.

Hepatitis is the name given to a group of viral infections that damage the liver. The most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Heavy alcohol use, certain drugs, toxins, and bacterial and viral infections can cause all types of hepatitis.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A ranges in severity from mild to debilitating. The length of the illness also varies from a few short weeks to several months.


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How do you get hepatitis A?

Ingesting the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by the feces of an infected person can cause hepatitis A. If an infected person touches or shares food, drinks, or other objects with you, you can get hepatitis A.

It’s also spread by:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person.
  • A parent or caregiver who changes a child’s diaper or cleans up the stool of an infected person and doesn’t properly wash his hands.
  • Eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus. This includes frozen or undercooked foods and fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water that contains the virus.
  • Hepatitis A can also enter the water supply. Water in the U.S. is treated with chlorine, which kills the virus.

Viral infections cause hepatitis A, B, and C. While they can have similar symptoms, each type affects your liver differently.

What is the difference between hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis A shows up as an acute or newly occurring infection. It’s not chronic. The good news is that hepatitis A can be cured without treatment.
  • Hepatitis B and C can begin as acute infections that stay in your body, making them chronic diseases that can cause long-term liver problems.
  • A vaccine can prevent hepatitis A and B.
  • There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
  • If you have one type, it’s possible to develop the other types.

The symptoms of liver disease can occur between two and six weeks after exposure.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Some people with inflammation of the liver have no symptoms. Symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark colored urine
  • Bowel movements that produce clay-colored feces
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice of the skin or eyes

Since many people do not have symptoms of hepatitis A, it’s still possible to spread the disease. An infected person can transmit hepatitis A up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

How serious is hepatitis A?

Most people recover without any lasting liver damage. In severe but rare cases, liver failure can lead to death.

At its height, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 2,500 acute cases of hepatitis A infection in the United States. It’s at an all-time low since the vaccine was introduced in 1995.

How do you prevent hepatitis A?

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. In severe cases, people with hepatitis A are hospitalized. The best prevention is to frequently wash your hands with warm water and soap after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food.

To prevent the virus in the first place, get vaccinated with the hepatitis A vaccine. It’s recommended for:

  • Children, who get vaccinated when they turn 1
  • Travelers visiting countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Users of illegal drugs, particularly with needles
  • People with chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis B or C

How is the hepatitis A vaccine administered?

People who receive the hepatitis A vaccine will receive two shots six months apart. The vaccine is also available to people ages 18 years and older as three shots, over a period of six months. The vaccine takes between two and four weeks to take effect.

Are there any side effects?

The hepatitis A vaccine is safe. There are no serious side effects. Some patients complain of having a sore arm for a few hours after being injected.

If you had hepatitis A in the past, you cannot get it again because your body’s antibodies protect you from a recurrence.


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June 26, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN