Hepatitis A is a viral disease that can cause inflammation of the liver, flu-like symptoms, and jaundice. You can be infected if you eat food prepared by an infected person who fails to wash their hands after using the toilet.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. This virus attacks the liver and can cause potentially serious disease damage.
After infection, it takes from two to seven weeks for an infected person to feel sick. Symptoms may last from a week to several months. Some people who are infected do not experience any symptoms. However, most people experience flu-like symptoms, including headache and fever. Other symptoms may include:
- Stomach cramps.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Darkened urine and pale-colored stools.
- Loss of appetite.
- Discomfort/pain in the right upper part of the abdomen.
You need a blood test to diagnose Hepatitis A (Hep A). Most people recover and hospitalization is rare, although death rates are higher in those over age 50. Up to 20 percent of infected adults may have a relapse of symptoms, resulting in prolonged illness. Once people recover, they develop lifelong immunity to Hepatitis A and are not chronic carriers.
How can I get Hepatitis A?
The Hepatitis A virus is found in the stools of infected people. The virus is spread when an infected person doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the washroom and then prepares food or makes hand contact with others who then eat the food or touch their mouths. It can also be spread by some sexual activities.
You may also be infected if you:
- Eat or drink something that has been exposed to sewage or prepared in unsanitary conditions.
- Eat uncooked foods such as shellfish.
Where can I get Hepatitis A?
You can get Hepatitis A anywhere, including from restaurants in large cities. It is common in developing countries, particularly rural areas, where sanitation and hygiene practices may be ineffective.
A person infected with Hep A may have a mild case and not realize they are ill. However, they can still spread the virus to others.
What vaccines are available for Hepatitis A?
The Hepatitis A vaccine is administered in a series of two doses given six to twelve months apart. Reactions to the vaccine are mild and extremely rare.
Other vaccines for Hep A include:
- Twinrix® for Hepatitis A and B, which is given in a series of three doses over six months.
- Vivaxim® for Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Will I need a booster?
The Hepatitis A vaccine series provides long-term protection lasting at least 20 years.
How can I prevent Hepatitis A?
In addition to being vaccinated, always wash your hands well with soap and water after going to the washroom, before preparing food, and before eating.
What is the treatment for Hepatitis A?
There is no effective treatment for Hep A. Most people recover within four to six weeks.
If you have been exposed to someone who may have Hepatitis A, consult your health practitioner or local public health unit as soon as possible. The Hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if you receive it within 14 days after you are exposed to an infected person.
Find out more information on Hepatitis A from our Vancouver Travel Clinic or any of our other 18 Travel Clinic locations.