The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stool and blood of an infected person. The virus is present about 15 to 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.
You can catch hepatitis A if:
- You eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated by stools (feces) containing the hepatitis A virus. Unpeeled and uncooked fruits and vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common sources of the disease.
- You come in contact with the stool or blood of a person who currently has the disease.
- A person with hepatitis A passes the virus to an object or food due to poor hand-washing after using the toilet.
- You take part in sexual practices that involve oral-anal contact.
Not everyone has symptoms with hepatitis A infection. Therefore, many more people are infected than are diagnosed or reported.
Risk factors include:
- Overseas travel, especially to Asia, South or Central America, Africa and the Middle East
- IV drug use
- Living in a nursing home center
- Working in a health care, food, or sewage industry
Other common hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is the least serious and mildest of these diseases.
Hepatitis A Symptoms
Symptoms most often show up 2 to 6 weeks after being exposed to the hepatitis A virus. They are most often mild, but may last for up to several months, especially in adults.
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale or clay-colored stools
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
Hepatitis A Diagnosis
The health care provider will perform a physical exam, which may show that your liver is enlarged and tender.
Blood tests may show:
- Raised IgM and IgG antibodies to hepatitis A (IgM is usually positive before IgG)
- Elevated liver enzymes (liver function tests), especially transaminase enzyme levels
Hepatitis A Treatment
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
- You should rest and stay well hydrated when the symptoms are the worst.
- People with acute hepatitis should avoid alcohol and drugs that are toxic to the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) during the acute illness and for several months after recovery.
Fatty foods may cause vomiting and are best avoided during the acute phase of the illness.