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Learning About Hepatitis A in Children

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 going to the washroom.

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

The disease can also spread in daycare centres. Workers can spread the virus if they don't wash their hands well after changing a diaper. Washing hands and putting dirty diapers in a covered trash can or diaper pail will help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

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 doesn't lead to long-term liver problems.

Symptoms may include:

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

How can you prevent hepatitis A in your child?

  • Make sure your child gets the recommended hepatitis A vaccine. But the vaccine, or a shot of immunoglobulin (IG), can help even after your child is exposed to hepatitis A.
  • Make sure you and your family wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after using the toilet and changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.
  • Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.
  • Don't eat or drink anything that you think may have been prepared in unclean conditions.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. You get better on your own. But there are things you can do to help your child feel better:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Make sure your child eats regular meals.
  • To prevent dehydration, give your child lots of fluids, enough so that the urine is light yellow or clear like water.

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

Where can you learn more?

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