Hepatitis A – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It spreads when a person ingests fecal matter from an infected person.

The virus is usually spread by eating food or drinking water handled by someone who has not properly washed his or her hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hepatitis A is most commonly spread to people through the fecal matter of an infected person.

This is often done by eating contaminated food or drinks or by sexual contact.

Without proper vaccination, up to 8 out of 10 people exposed to the virus will become infected, and 75 percent of them will develop liver failure, according to the CDC.


Symptoms usually appear about 15 to 50 days after a person is exposed to the virus, and may include:

  • fever
  • lack of appetite
  • watery diarrhea
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • fatigue
  • brown spots on the palms of the hands and feet


Treatment of hepatitis A typically involves the following:


The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.

If people get sick with the virus, it is important to note that it is possible to transmit the disease to others even if the infected person does not show any symptoms.

Thus, it is important that anyone who suspects they have been exposed to the virus visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.


A doctor may diagnose hepatitis A if they suspect an infected person has the disease. A doctor may diagnose hepatitis A if they suspect an infected person has the disease.

Treating hepatitis A usually involves either administering the antiviral medication ribavirin or immune globulin.

Doctors first identify the person who may have been exposed to the virus.

During this time, the doctor will perform a physical examination and the person may receive a blood test to determine if their immune system is producing antibodies to the virus.

Doctors may also order a blood test to check for antibodies.

Antiviral medication

Doctors use antiviral medication to treat hepatitis A. Antiviral medications are generally administered for 5 to 7 days and include:

  • ribavirin
  • heptavirin
  • hepozivil
  • nefavirenz

The ribavirin and the two others are used in combination.


Efficacy of these drugs in reducing the viral load in the blood can prevent the virus from multiplying further.

Immune globulin is used as a supplement to reduce the symptoms and complications of the disease. It should be administered to those people who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms, such as pregnant women.

If a person does develop severe symptoms, they will need intravenous immune globulin and anti-viral medication.

It is important that people are aware of the risk of hepatitis A and of the symptoms that may occur, particularly in the first 6 months following the exposure.

For anyone at risk of getting hepatitis A, it is important to get vaccinated against the virus.


The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.

In the United States, the CDC recommends that everyone be vaccinated at least 2 weeks before traveling abroad.

Before traveling, the CDC recommends that people watch for any changes in their health. If they notice any of the following symptoms, they should see a doctor or seek medical attention:

  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • fatigue
  • dark urine : Dark urine is an indication of liver damage. Dark urine is an indication of liver damage.
  • Dizziness or a rapid heartbeat
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling sick
  • dark urine
  • light-colored stools
  • weakness

Prevention tips for travelers

Anyone with these symptoms should avoid going to work or traveling for at least 7 days following their exposure.

Those in a high-risk group, including anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has hepatitis A or has recently traveled to a country with high levels of hepatitis A in the water supply, should consider getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

Anyone who does not get vaccinated before traveling should also consider waiting for 2 weeks before traveling to another country or region where the virus is more common.

If someone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis A has traveled to a country or region with high levels of the virus, it is essential they contact their healthcare professional or get an immunization within 2 weeks of the last exposure.


In general, people can expect to live with mild to moderate symptoms for 1-3 months.

If untreated, the symptoms of hepatitis A can be more severe, leading to dehydration and kidney failure.

If anyone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis A has not received treatment within 2 weeks of their last symptoms, they should seek medical help.

Complications from liver disease may include:

  • kidney failure
  • ejection renal failure
  • kidney damage
  • shortness of breath
  • jaundice

Less common complications include:

  • bleeding from the gums
  • difficulty speaking
  • severe abdominal pain
  • depression
  • inflammation of the liver
  • autoimmune disease

Risk factors

It is possible to get hepatitis A from blood products or other oral contact with infected stool.

For this reason, blood and organ donation should be assessed when considering whether someone is at risk of hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is one of the most common causes of liver disease.

People who do not regularly wash their hands, particularly in places where they are not likely to see other people, are at a higher risk of becoming infected.

Hepatitis A is also spread through the fecal-oral route, meaning people can spread it by sharing food and utensils, especially if not boiled first.

Some people may have a prolonged delay between when they first become infected and when they seek medical attention. This is because people often underestimate the severity of their symptoms.

People who do not know that they have been infected with hepatitis A or are unsure of the severity of their symptoms should seek medical attention.


In most cases, hepatitis A is treatable and curable.

Hepatitis A can be passed on during pregnancy or during the early stages of pregnancy if the woman is infected.

In rare cases, hepatitis A may be fatal.


As of January 4, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 63 states and Puerto Rico are reporting outbreaks of the hepatitis A virus. The highest number of cases is being reported in California and Colorado.

Hepatitis A is preventable and treatable. There are vaccines available that can be given to people at risk of infection, including:

  • people who use illegal drugs
  • who have had a blood transfusion
  • people with Hepatitis B or C
  • who have given birth to a child with Hepatitis A or B

The current outbreak is preventable if people are vaccinated or immunized early. Getting vaccinated or immunized against hepatitis A is very important, as it is a highly contagious infection that spreads easily.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459290/
  2. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8v72p1sk

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