Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.
- Hepatitis A symptoms typically appear 15 to 50 days following an exposure.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Low grade fever
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- How is hepatitis A spread?
Transmission (How it is spread from person to person)
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.
Contamination of food (this can include frozen and undercooked food) by hepatitis A can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking. Contamination of food or water is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. In the United States, chlorination of water kills hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely monitors natural bodies of water used for recreation for fecal contamination so there is no need for monitoring for hepatitis A virus specifically.
Who is at risk for hepatitis A?
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, in the United States, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as:
- People with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
- Household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia
- People working with nonhuman primates
Hepatitis A VaccineThe best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. To get the full benefit of the hepatitis A vaccine, more than one shot is needed. The number and timing of these shots depends on the type of vaccine you are given. Practicing good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food – plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.
- Hepatitis A Fact Sheet
- Hepatitis A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Hepatitis A Vaccine Information Statement (VIS)
- Human Immune Globulin (IG) Information Sheet
- ECDOH Vaccine Clinic
Erie County Department of Health
Epidemiology/Disease Control Program
95 Franklin Street, Room 978
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 858-7697
Fax: (716) 858-7964