Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect your liver’s ability to function. You’re most likely to get hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment. Most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage. Practicing good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. Vaccines are available for people most at risk.
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks. Not everyone with hepatitis A develops them. If you do, hepatitis signs and symptoms can include:
- Sudden nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially on the upper right side beneath your lower ribs (by your liver)
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Intense itching
These symptoms may be relatively mild and go away in a few weeks. Sometimes, however, hepatitis A infection results in a severe illness that lasts several months.
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects liver cells and causes inflammation. The inflammation can affect how your liver works and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis A.
The virus most commonly spreads when you eat or drink something contaminated with fecal matter, even just tiny amounts. It does not spread through sneezing or coughing.
Here are some of the specific ways the hepatitis A virus can spread:
- Eating food handled by someone with the virus who doesn’t thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet
- Drinking contaminated water
- Eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage
- Being in close contact with a person who’s infected — even if that person has no signs or symptoms
- Having sex with someone who has the virus
Blood tests are used to look for signs of the hepatitis A virus in your body. A sample of blood is taken, usually from a vein in your arm. It’s sent to a laboratory for testing.
No specific treatment exists for hepatitis A. Your body will clear the hepatitis A virus on its own. In most cases of hepatitis A, the liver heals within six months with no lasting damage.
Hepatitis A treatment usually focuses on keeping comfortable and controlling signs and symptoms. You may need to:
- Rest. Many people with hepatitis A infection feel tired and sick and have less energy.
- Manage nausea. Nausea can make it difficult to eat. Try snacking throughout the day rather than eating full meals. To get enough calories, eat more high-calorie foods. For instance, drink fruit juice or milk rather than water. Drinking plenty of fluids is important to prevent dehydration if vomiting occurs.
- Avoid alcohol and use medications with care. Your liver may have difficulty processing medications and alcohol. If you have hepatitis, don’t drink alcohol. It can cause
moreliver damage. Talk to your doctor about all the medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs.