Hepatitis A, also called hep A, is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. Some people have only a mild illness that lasts a few weeks. Others have more severe problems that can last months. You usually get the disease when you eat or drink something contaminated by poop from a person who has the virus.
The hepatitis A virus usually isn’t dangerous. Almost everyone who has it gets better. But because it can take a while to go away, you’ll need to take care of yourself in the meantime.
If you have this infection, the virus is causing inflammation in your liver. Some people, especially many children, don’t have symptoms. Others might have:
These problems tend to go away after about 2 months but might keep coming back for up to 6 months.
You can spread the hepatitis A virus even if you feel fine. You can also spread it about 2 weeks before your symptoms appear and during the first week after they show up.
You can catch the disease by drinking water or eating food that’s been contaminated by someone with the virus. You can also get hepatitis A if you:
You could be at higher risk of getting the disease if you:
Also at higher risk are:
Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms and check for high levels of liver enzymes in your blood. Then, they’ll do more blood tests to look for:
No medication can get rid of the hepatitis A virus once you have it. Your doctor will treat your symptoms — they may call this supportive care — until it goes away. They’ll also do tests that check how well your liver is working to be sure your body is healing like it should.
You can take these steps to make yourself more comfortable:
The virus usually doesn’t cause any long-term problems or complications. Rarely, you may have liver failure or need a transplant.
The vaccine to prevent it is about 95% effective in healthy adults and can work for more than 20 years. In children, it’s about 85% effective and can last 15 to 20 years.
Experts recommend that certain people get vaccinated:
The hepatitis A vaccine includes two injections 6 months apart. A combination vaccine for hepatitis A and B has three shots over 6 months.
If you’re going to a country where hepatitis A is common and you’ve never had the virus or the vaccine, start the vaccination process as soon as you can. It takes 2 to 4 weeks after the first dose for the vaccine to work, but even one shot a few days before you leave will give you some protection.
People who are allergic to something in the vaccine and children younger than 6 months might instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG), which will protect against hepatitis A for up to 2 months.
The vaccine is your best defense. If you come into contact with someone who has hepatitis A, you can get the vaccine or an IG shot within 2 weeks for some protection.
Good hygiene is also important. Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, before and after handling food, and after changing a diaper.
When you travel to a place with poor sanitation, don’t drink tap water or eat raw food.
When you have hepatitis A, take these steps to keep from giving it to others: