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Hepatitis A is a virus that can infect the liver. In most cases, the infection goes away on its own and doesn't lead to long-term liver problems. In rare cases, it can be more serious.
Other viruses (hepatitis B and hepatitis C) also can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis A is the most common type.
The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread when a person eats food or drinks water that has come in contact with infected stool.
Hepatitis A is common in developing countries, where there may be poor sanitation and poor hygiene. It's one of the most common vaccine-preventable illnesses in travellers. If you're travelling to any developing country, you're at risk for hepatitis A and should get a vaccine.
Sometimes a group of people who eat at the same restaurant can get hepatitis A. This can happen when an employee with hepatitis A doesn't wash his or her hands well after using the bathroom and then prepares food. It can also happen when a food item is contaminated by raw sewage or by an infected garden worker.
The disease can also spread in daycare centres. Children, especially those in diapers, may get stool on their hands and then touch objects that other children put into their mouths. And 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.
Some things can raise your risk of getting hepatitis A, such as eating raw oysters or undercooked clams. If you're travelling in a country where hepatitis A is common, you can lower your chances of getting the disease by avoiding uncooked foods and untreated tap water.
You may also be at risk if you live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
After you have been exposed to the virus, it can take from 2 to 7 weeks before you see any signs of it. Symptoms usually last for about 2 months but may last longer.
Common symptoms are:
All forms of hepatitis have similar symptoms. Only a blood test can tell if you have hepatitis A or another form of the disease.
Call your doctor if you have reason to think that you have hepatitis A or have been exposed to it. (For example, did you recently eat in a restaurant where a server was found to have hepatitis A? Has there been an outbreak at your child's daycare? Does someone in your house have hepatitis A?)
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and where you have eaten or travelled. You may have blood tests if your doctor thinks you have the virus. These tests can tell if your liver is inflamed and whether you have antibodies to the hepatitis A virus. These antibodies show that you have been exposed to the virus.
Hepatitis A goes away on its own in most cases. Most people get well within a few months. While you have hepatitis:
If hepatitis A causes more serious illness, you may need to stay in the hospital to prevent problems while your liver heals.
Be sure to take steps to avoid spreading the virus to others.
You can only get the hepatitis A virus once. After that, your body builds up a defence against it.
Adaptation Date: 10/30/2019
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
CitationsCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Update: Prevention of hepatitis A after exposure to hepatitis A virus and in international travelers. Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 56(RR-41): 1080–1084. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5641a3.htm.
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