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What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (also known as HAV) is one of several hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver.  About 25,000 to 30,000 Americans are infected with HAV every year. Hepatitis A is the most common of the two enterically (relating to, or being within the intestine) transmitted hepatitis viruses in the U.S. and is one of the two vaccine-preventable hepatitis infections.

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, or via food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person. Basic precautions like washing hands with soap and water following bowel movements and before preparing food reduces the risk of infection. Also, hepatitis A can be transmitted by sexual contact with an infected person. In some cases, it can be spread through contact with infected blood.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis A?

Residents of, or travelers to countries where HAV is common,  intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and other individuals who suffer from clotting-factor disorders, individuals who live with someone with HAV, men who have sexual contact with other men, and individuals having  oral-anal contact with someone with HAV.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?

The incubation period ranges from 15 to 50 days for symptoms to appear and averages 28 days. However, an infected person can spread the virus to others as early as 2 weeks before symptoms appear. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. Some persons remain asymptomatic (have no symptoms).

Symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine and/or clay-colored stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Stomach pain

How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?

To diagnose acute hepatitis A, a blood test called “IgM class antibody to hepatitis A virus” (IgM anti-HAV) is used. Another blood test indicates if a person was previously infected with hepatitis A, known as total hepatitis A antibody, also called anti-HAV).

How is Hepatitis A treated?

There is no special treatment for HAV. A full recovery is expected in almost all HAV infections, usually resolving on its own over several weeks, with occasional relapses. Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic hepatitis. Doctors recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluids. Check with a health professional before taking any medication that could harm the liver, and avoid alcohol.

How is Hepatitis A infection prevented?

There is a vaccine for hepatitis A. [RB1] HAV vaccines are made from inactivated (killed) HAV virus. They are highly effective in preventing the HAV infection.  The vaccine provides protection within 2 weeks after the first shot.  A second shot results in long-lasting protection, possibly 25 years or longer.

The HAV vaccine is for people 1 year and older and is recommended for:
  • People who have long-lasting liver disease or clotting factor problems.
  • People who travel or work in developing countries (this includes all countries except northern and western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and North America, except Mexico).
  • Children in populations that have common widespread diseases of HAV (Alaska natives, American Indians and certain closed religious groups) and states or counties that have regularly high rates of HAV.
  • People who live in the same household as people with HAV
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • People who use intravenous drugs

Immune globulin (IG) can provide a temporary immunity to the virus for 2 to 3 months if given before exposure Twinrix®, a vaccine that combines hepatitis A and B, may be given to people 18 years and over.

The virus may spread more rapidly in places where people are in close contact. Be sure to wash your hands well after using the restroom, and always if you come in contact with an infected person's blood, stool,or other bodily fluid, and avoid unclean food and water.