Hepatitis A (HAV) Infection

Hepatitis A (HAV) Infection

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Hepatitis A (HAV) Infection

Closeup of hands in sink with running water. Hands are covered with soap suds.Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It has many causes. One of the causes is infection with a virus called the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This virus most often spreads through infected food or water that has been contaminated by infected stool. It can also spread directly from person to person. This could happen if someone does not wash his or her hands after coming in contact with infected stool — for example, after using the bathroom or changing a dirty diaper. It can also be passed on by having sex with an infected person. HAV spreads more easily in group settings, such as day care centers or nursing homes. Unlike Hepatitis B and C, HAV generally runs its course and does not become a chronic illness. It may last several weeks to 6 months. It rarely causes long-term problems. And it very rarely leads to liver failure, the need for a liver transplant, or death. HAV can be prevented by a vaccine.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A Infection

Symptoms usually appear about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus. Possible symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Pain in the stomach area or over the liver

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

  • Itchy skin

  • Dark urine and light colored stools

Diagnosing Hepatitis A

A sample of blood is taken to test for HAV. Other tests may be done to check the health of the liver.

Treating Hepatitis A

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. The virus will run its course. Treat symptoms as you would flu symptoms, including drinking fluids and getting plenty of rest. During recovery, avoid fatty foods. DO NOT drink alcohol, which can damage the liver. Also DO NOT take any over-the-counter medications without checking with your health care provider. The liver processes many medications, and certain medications can be harmful to the infected liver. Limit the amount of acetaminophen you take to no more than 2 grams per day. 

Preventing Hepatitis A from Spreading

A person with hepatitis A can spread the virus to others, even before symptoms appear. He or she can continue to spread the virus for a few days after symptoms start. Take these precautions to prevent HAV from spreading:

  • Wash hands often, and always after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing food or eating. Work up a good lather with soap and warm water. Scrub for at least 10 to 15 seconds, then rinse.

  • Avoid work and public areas until symptoms are gone.

  • Once you’ve had hepatitis A, you cannot get it again, so you don’t need the hepatitis A vaccine. But you should consider vaccination against hepatitis B, a more serious form of hepatitis.

  • The hepatitis A vaccine is an inactive form of the virus. This means you can't get hepatitis A from the vaccine. The vaccine is given in 2 shots 6 months apart. Since 2006, the hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended for all infants born in the U.S. 

  • Members of the household should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B if they haven’t been already

 When to Call the Health Care Provider

  • Symptoms get worse instead of better

  • You have signs of dehydration: decreased urination; very dark urine; dry, sticky mouth

  • You have swelling in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, abdomen, or face

  • You bleed from the nose, mouth, or rectum, or have bloody stools