What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a highly transmissible infection that causes inflammation of the liver and can affect its ability to function. The time between exposure and symptoms averages between 28 to 30 days and symptoms usually last from two to seven weeks.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A virus infection often has no symptoms or results in a mild disease, particularly in children under five years of age. In adults, the onset of illness is usually abrupt, with the following symptoms:
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
- dark urine
- loss of appetite
- abdominal discomfort
People are most infectious just before the onset of symptoms, with most cases considered non-infectious after the first week of jaundice.
What are the complications of hepatitis A?
Prolonged, relapsing hepatitis for up to one year occurs in 15% of cases. Chronic infection with hepatitis A is not known to occur and infection gives lifelong immunity to the disease.
The risk of death is very low but higher in adults over 50 years of age or in people with underlying chronic liver disease.
How is hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It spreads most often through the faeces of an infected person, either by consuming contaminated food or water or by person-to-person contact through poor hygiene.
It can also spread among close contacts such as household contacts, sexual contacts, and those attending daycare centres or schools.
Who is at risk of hepatitis A?
The following groups are most at risk of hepatitis A virus infection:
- men who have sex with men
- those living with someone infected with hepatitis A
- those living in areas of poor hygiene and sanitation
- people who use or inject drugs
How can hepatitis A be prevented?
Hepatitis A can be best prevented through improved food safety, sanitation and vaccination.
Strict control measures, such as reinforcing personal hygiene, contact tracing and administration of a vaccine to exposed persons, have also proved to be effective.
There are several effective and safe vaccines available. Vaccines are effective even if given up to ten days after exposure.
How is hepatitis A treated?
No treatment specific to hepatitis A exists, the therapy is only supportive, and patients usually recover spontaneously.
Note: The information contained in this factsheet is intended for the purpose of general information and should not be used as a substitute for the individual expertise and judgement of a healthcare professional.