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Fact Sheet: Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a viral infection often resulting in liver disease.

How common is hepatitis A?

In the United States there is an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 total cases of hepatitis A reported each year. In Oregon there were nearly 3,000 cases in 1995. Since vaccination has become available, fewer than 100 cases occur annually in Oregon.


What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), tiredness, stomach pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea (frequent watery bowel movements), dark urine and light colored bowel movements.

Children with hepatitis A may not show any signs of being sick, but it can still be passed to others. Adults usually have worse symptoms than children and have jaundice more often.

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

A blood test (IgM anti-HAV) is needed to confirm the diagnosis of hepatitis A.

Who should get tested?

Anyone with signs and/or symptoms of hepatitis A.

What is the treatment for hepatitis A?

Usually hepatitis A is not treated with drugs. Symptoms get better on their own in most cases over one to two months.

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is usually spread from person to person by when they put something in their mouth that has come in contact with the bowel movement of a person with hepatitis A. This type of spread is called "fecal-oral." Therefore, the virus is more easily spread in unclean areas or where people do not wash their hands. Most people get hepatitis A from contact with a household member or sex partner who has the virus. The virus is not spread by casual contact, as in the usual office, factory, or school setting.

Are infected persons contagious?

Persons with the virus can pass the virus to others from two weeks before the illness begins until two weeks after it ends.

What if I am exposed?

People exposed to hepatitis A can get a shot called immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine to prevent the disease. Either one can be given to a person who has been exposed to the virus; it prepares the body and makes it resistant to the disease immediately and for a short period afterwards. For protection, it must be given with in two weeks after the exposure a person with hepatitis A — the earlier, the better.

What can I do to prevent from getting hepatitis A?

  • Get the hepatitis A vaccine (shots) — the vaccine is highly successful in preventing infection;
  • Wash your hands well with warm water and soap after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, having sex, before making food, and before eating;
  • Keep your living space clean.

Is there a vaccine available for hepatitis A?

Yes. Hepatitis A vaccine has been licensed in the United States for use in persons one year of age and older. The shot should be given before contact, to persons at high risk or persons likely to get very ill with the virus. It must be given at least four weeks before expected exposure.

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?

Hepatitis A vaccination provides protection before one has contact with the hepatitis A virus. The vaccination is suggested for the following persons who are at higher risk for infection (and for any person wishing to be protected):

  • Children over the age of one in Oregon;
  • Persons traveling to or working in countries that have high rates of hepatitis A;
  • Men who have sex with men;
  • Illegal-drug users (injection and non-injection drug users)
  • Persons with on-the-job risk for infection (e.g., working with hepatitis A-infected primates — monkeys or apes for example — or in a hepatitis A research lab);
  • Persons who have lifelong liver disease;
  • Persons with hemophilia (an inherited blood disease marked by severe prolonged bleeding.

Who does not need to get vaccinated for hepatitis A?

  • Food service workers — it is not common in the U.S. for hepatitis A to spread through food. It may be considered, however;
  • Persons who work in and with sewage;
  • Health care workers — standard infection control measures prevent spread from patients with hepatitis A to hospital staff;
  • Children less than one year of age (the vaccine is not approved for them).

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. More than 65 million doses of hepatitis A vaccine have been administered worldwide. Reviews of data did not identify any serious negative events among children or adults that could be connected directly to the hepatitis A vaccine. The safety of the vaccine will continue to be reviewed.

Can other vaccines be given with the hepatitis A vaccine?

Yes. Other vaccines can be given with the hepatitis A vaccine, but they must be given at a different place on the body.

How long does protection last after receiving the vaccine?

It is thought that protection will last for at least 20 years.

When does the protection start after receiving the vaccine?

Protection against hepatitis A begins four weeks after the first dose of hepatitis A vaccine.

Can the hepatitis A vaccine be given during pregnancy or while breast feeding?

It is not known for sure, but the vaccine cannot cause hepatitis A, and the risk to the developing baby is thought to be low. If you are pregnant or breast feeding, talk to your doctor.
If you think you may have Hepatitis A it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you can't afford a doctor and/or are not currently on a health plan or insurance, call 1-800-SAFENET (723-3638) for information on low-cost clinics near you.

Source: CDC
Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: August 2008. Return to top