What's in this article?
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is present in the faeces of infected persons and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect your liver’s ability to function.
You’re most likely to contract hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with someone who’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment, and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
If you have this infection, you have inflammation in your liver that’s caused by a virus. You don’t always get symptoms, but when you do, you might have:
- Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin, dark urine)
- Pain in your belly
- Loss of appetite
Children often have the disease with few symptoms.
You can spread the hepatitis A virus about 2 weeks before your symptoms appear and during the first week they show up, or even if you don’t have any.
How could I get hepatitis A?
You could get hepatitis A through contact with an infected person’s stool. This contact could occur by
- eating food made by an infected person who didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom
- drinking untreated water or eating food washed in untreated water
- placing a finger or object in your mouth that came into contact with an infected person’s stool
- having close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill
- You cannot get hepatitis A from
- being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
- sitting next to an infected person
- hugging an infected person
A baby cannot get hepatitis A from breast milk.
Vaccination against hepatitis A
Vaccination against hepatitis A isn’t routinely offered in the UK because the risk of infection is low for most people.
It’s only recommended for people at an increased risk, including:
- close contacts of someone with hepatitis A
- people planning to travel to or live in parts of the world where hepatitis A is widespread, particularly if levels of sanitation and food hygiene are expected to be poor
- people with any type of long-term (chronic) liver disease
- men who have sex with other men
- people who inject illegal drugs
- people who may be exposed to hepatitis A through their job – this includes sewage workers, staff of institutions where levels of personal hygiene may be poor (such as a homeless shelter) and people working with monkeys, apes and gorillas
The hepatitis A vaccine is usually available for free on the NHS for anyone who needs it.
Treatments for hepatitis A
No specific treatment exists for hepatitis A. Your body will clear the hepatitis A virus on its own. In most cases of hepatitis A, the liver heals within six months with no lasting damage.
Hepatitis A treatment usually focuses on coping with your signs and symptoms. You may need to:
- Rest. Many people with hepatitis A infection feel tired and sick and have less energy.
- Cope with nausea. Nausea can make it difficult to eat. Try snacking throughout the day rather than eating full meals. To get enough calories, eat more high-calorie foods. For instance, drink fruit juice or milk rather than water.
- Rest your liver. Your liver may have difficulty processing medications and alcohol. Review your medications, including over-the-counter drugs, with your doctor. Don’t drink alcohol while infected with hepatitis.