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Hepatitis A

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus that causes the liver to swell. It can be a mild illness that lasts a few weeks or a more severe illness that lasts several months.

The basics

Who gets hepatitis A?

Anyone who is not immune to hepatitis A infection can get hepatitis A infection. Certain groups of people do have a higher risk of developing hepatitis A infection: 

  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People with substance use disorder (injection and non-injection)
  • People who may have come in direct contact with an infected person
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People who eat raw or undercooked shellfish
  • People recently incarcerated

How is hepatitis A spread?

The hepatitis A virus is usually found in the stools of infected people. People can get infected when stool gets in their mouth. This can happen when people do not wash their hands after using the toilet, or changing a diaper or soiled sheets and then touch their own mouths or prepare food for others. Unlike other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A is not usually spread by blood.

How is it diagnosed?

You need a blood test to see if someone has hepatitis A. This blood test can tell the difference between a current and past infection.


What are the symptoms?

Some people will have no symptoms. If symptoms appear, they develop 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus and can include:

  • Whites of the eye and skin turn yellow
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Dark brown urine
  • Joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Grey-colored stools (feces)
  • Mild flu like symptoms


How can you prevent hepatitis A?

  • Always wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the toilet, touching soiled items, and before and after preparing food
  • Cook shellfish
    • Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. Thorough cooking destroys the hepatitis A virus
  • Get hepatitis A vaccine if:
    • You plan to travel to or work in a country with high rates of hepatitis A
    • You live in a community with high rates of hepatitis A
    • You are experiencing homelessness
    • You have a lifelong liver disease
    • You have a bleeding disorder and have clotting factor
    • You use illicit drugs of any kind
    • You are a man who has sex with other men
    • You come in direct contact with an infected person
    • Many children are now given hepatitis A vaccine as part of their regular childhood vaccinations

What if you have been exposed to hepatitis A?

If you have never had the hepatitis A vaccine and have been exposed, you may be able to prevent infection by getting Immunoglobulin (IG) or hepatitis A vaccine. Contact your healthcare provider right away if you have been exposed to hepatitis A.

Are there any health guidelines for people with hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A can easily spread to other people. Massachusetts healthcare providers are required by law to report hepatitis A cases to the local health department. People with hepatitis A are most contagious from two weeks before until one week after their symptoms start. To protect the public, people who are food handlers must stay home from work for 28 days after their exposure.

For more information, visit the CDC.


How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no treatment for the disease, but rest, drinking plenty of fluids and good nutrition can help people feel better. A person usually only gets hepatitis A once, but they can still get other hepatitis viruses such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

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