Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of your liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. Located under your right ribcage, your liver has many important functions including filtering harmful chemicals from your blood, helping you fight infections, helping digest your food, and storing nutrients, vitamins, and energy. If your liver gets infected by the virus, it becomes inflamed. Inflammation is your body's response to an injury or infection.

Hepatitis A usually does not cause long-lasting liver disease, but it can make you feel very sick for several weeks.

How You Might Get Hepatitis A

The virus that causes hepatitis A usually gets into your body when you ingest food or liquid, such as water, that has come into contact with the feces, or stool, of an infected person. Hepatitis A is one of the most common causes of illness that is spread through contaminated food and water. It is most common in countries that do not have safe drinking water. You may also catch the disease if you come into direct contact with the feces of a person who is infected.

You could be at risk if you:

  • Travel to a country that does not have safe drinking water
  • Live with a person who has hepatitis A
  • Use illegal drugs
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Have a clotting factor disorder

Signs and Symptoms

After you become infected with hepatitis A, it takes about two to four weeks before you’ll start to feel symptoms. Children under age six may have no symptoms while older children and adults may feel like they have the flu. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Being very tired
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark colored urine
  • Yellow colored eyes or skin, called jaundice

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor may suspect hepatitis A from your symptoms, but you will need a blood test to be sure. The blood test for hepatitis A measures proteins called antibodies that go up when your body responds to the hepatitis A infection. A blood test may also be done to see if the infection is affecting your liver.

Hepatitis A usually gets better on its own in a few weeks. If you get diagnosed soon after becoming infected your doctor may give you a medicine called immune globulin to try to prevent you from getting symptoms.

Get lots of rest and avoid drinking alcohol until you have recovered. In the future, your body will be able to fight off another infection from hepatitis A, but you could still get other types of hepatitis.


You can get a hepatitis A vaccine that will teach your body to fight off the hepatitis A virus. When your body's defense system learns how to fight off an infection through a vaccine, it is called immunization. It takes two injections of the vaccine to prevent infection. Children should be vaccinated after their first birthday. People who are at risk for hepatitis A, have another liver disease, or travel to countries where hepatitis A is very common should also be vaccinated.

What You Can Do

  • Ask your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine if you have not been vaccinated and may be at risk.
  • Let your doctor know if you have been exposed to hepatitis A or have symptoms of hepatitis A.
  • Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing food.
  • If you are in an area where hepatitis A is common, avoid undercooked food and use bottled water for drinking, ice cubes, and preparing foods, especially for rinsing fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

What We Have Learned

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver.
True or False
The answer is True

One way you might get hepatitis A is from drinking water that has come into contact with feces from an infected person.
True or False
The answer is True

There is currently no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A.
True or False
The answer is False