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Hepatitis A (HAV) Infection

Woman washing hands at sink with soap and water.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 from person to person. This could happen if someone does not wash his or her hands after being 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 long-term (chronic) illness. It may last several weeks to 6 months. It rarely causes long-term problems. In very rare cases it 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

  • Upset stomach (nausea), vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

  • 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 your 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. Drink fluids and get plenty of rest.

  • During recovery, avoid fatty foods.

  • Do not drink alcohol, which can damage the liver.

  • Do not take any over-the-counter medicines without checking with your healthcare provider. The liver processes many medicines, and certain medicines can be harmful to the infected liver. Limit the amount of acetaminophen you take to no more than 2 grams per day. 

  • If you know you've been exposed to hepatitis A in the past 2 weeks, tell your healthcare provider. To reduce your risk of HAV after exposure, it is recommended that you have a dose of the vaccine. A shot of immune globulin (IG) can also offer short-term protection. IG has antibodies from the body’s immune system that destroy HAV.

Preventing hepatitis A from spreading

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

  • Wash hands often. Always wash hands 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 places until symptoms are gone.

  • Once you’ve had hepatitis A, you can’t 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 that are 6 months apart. Since 2006, the hepatitis A vaccine has been recommended for all infants born in the U.S. 

  • People living with you should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B if they haven’t been already.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Symptoms get worse instead of better

  • Signs of dehydration (decreased urination, very dark urine, dry or sticky mouth, confusion)

  • Swelling in your hands, arms, feet, ankles, abdomen, or face

  • Bleeding from your nose, mouth, or rectum

  • Bloody stools

 

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