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Learning About Hepatitis A

The digestive system

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is found in the stool of a person who has the disease. It is spread when people eat food or drink water that has come in contact with the infected stool. This can happen if you eat food prepared by someone who has not washed his or her hands after changing a diaper or using the restroom.

In countries that have poor sewer systems, you can get the virus by drinking the water or eating foods washed in the water.

You can only get the hepatitis A virus once. After that, your body builds up a defence against it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually last about 2 months. They go away on their own in almost all cases and do not need treatment. Although hepatitis A is an infection of the liver, the disease does not lead to long-term liver problems.

Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Yellowing of your skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Vomiting.
  • Dehydration (severe loss of water).

How can you prevent hepatitis A?

You can get hepatitis A or give it to other people before and after symptoms are present.

To avoid getting hepatitis A:

  • Ask your doctor whether you need the hepatitis A vaccine. People who may need it include travellers to countries where the disease is common, men who have sex with men, and people with liver disease.
  • Make sure you and your family wash your hands with soap and hot water after using the toilet and changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.
  • Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.
  • Do not eat or drink anything that you think may have been prepared in unclean conditions.

To avoid spreading hepatitis A if you have it:

  • Tell people you live with or have sex with that you have the disease. These people should ask their doctors if they need a shot of immunoglobulin (IG). This may prevent the disease.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food.

If you think you have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus and have no symptoms, talk to your doctor. If you get the vaccine or a shot of immunoglobulin (IG) within 2 weeks of the exposure, you may not get the disease.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. You get better on your own. You can take steps to help yourself feel better:

  • Reduce your activity level to meet your energy level.
  • Eat regular meals. If you feel sick to your stomach, eat many small meals rather than three large meals.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. Using drugs or alcohol may make the disease last longer.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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