National Digestive Diseases
Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)

A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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What I need to know about Hepatitis A

On this page:

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis* A is a virus, or infection, that causes liver disease and inflammation of the liver. Viruses can cause sickness. For example, the flu is caused by a virus. People can pass viruses to each other.

Inflammation is swelling that occurs when tissues of the body become injured or infected. Inflammation can cause organs to not work properly.

*See the Pronunciation Guide for tips on how to say the underlined words.

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What is the liver?

The liver is an organ that does many important things. You cannot live without a liver.

Drawing of the digestive tract inside the outline of a man’s torso with label pointing to the liver.
Hepatitis A is a virus, or infection, that causes inflammation of the liver.

The liver

  • removes harmful chemicals from your blood
  • fights infection
  • helps digest food
  • stores nutrients and vitamins
  • stores energy

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Who gets hepatitis A?

Anyone can get hepatitis A, but those more likely to are people who

  • travel to developing countries
  • live with someone who currently has an active hepatitis A infection
  • use illegal drugs, including noninjection drugs
  • have unprotected sex with an infected person
  • provide child care

Also, men who have sex with men are more likely to get hepatitis A.

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How could I get hepatitis A?

You could get hepatitis A through contact with an infected person’s stool. This contact could occur by

  • eating food made by an infected person who didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom
  • drinking untreated water or eating food washed in untreated water
  • placing a finger or object in your mouth that came into contact with an infected person’s stool
  • having close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill

You cannot get hepatitis A from

  • being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
  • sitting next to an infected person
  • hugging an infected person

A baby cannot get hepatitis A from breast milk.

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What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Most people do not have any symptoms of hepatitis A. If symptoms of hepatitis A occur, they include

  • feeling tired
  • muscle soreness
  • upset stomach
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • dark-yellow urine
  • light-colored stools
  • yellowish eyes and skin, called jaundice

Symptoms of hepatitis A can occur 2 to 7 weeks after coming into contact with the virus. Children younger than age 6 may have no symptoms. Older children and adults often get mild, flulike symptoms. See a doctor right away if you or a child in your care has symptoms of hepatitis A.

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How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

A blood test will show if you have hepatitis A. Blood tests are done at a doctor’s office or outpatient facility. A blood sample is taken using a needle inserted into a vein in your arm or hand. The blood sample is sent to a lab to test for hepatitis A.

Image of a female health care provider drawing blood from the arm of a female patient, who is sitting in a chair.
A blood test will show if you have hepatitis A.

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How is hepatitis A treated?

Hepatitis A usually gets better in a few weeks without treatment. However, some people can have symptoms for up to 6 months. Your doctor may suggest medicines to help relieve your symptoms. Talk with your doctor before taking prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

See your doctor regularly to make sure your body has fully recovered. If symptoms persist after 6 months, then you should see your doctor again.

When you recover, your body will have learned to fight off a future hepatitis A infection. However, you can still get other kinds of hepatitis.

Drawing of a woman lying in bed with knees bent and hands resting on the abdomen.
Hepatitis A usually gets better in a few weeks without treatment.

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How can I avoid getting hepatitis A?

You can avoid getting hepatitis A by receiving the hepatitis A vaccine.

Vaccines are medicines that keep you from getting sick. Vaccines teach the body to attack specific viruses and infections. The hepatitis A vaccine teaches your body to attack the hepatitis A virus.

The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two shots. The second shot is given 6 to 12 months after the first shot. You should get both hepatitis A vaccine shots to be fully protected.

All children should be vaccinated between 12 and 23 months of age. Discuss the hepatitis A vaccine with your child’s doctor.

Adults at higher risk of getting hepatitis A and people with chronic liver disease should also be vaccinated.

If you are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common, including Mexico, try to get both shots before you go. If you don’t have time to get both shots before you travel, get the first shot as soon as possible. Most people gain some protection within 2 weeks after the first shot.

You can also protect yourself and others from hepatitis A if you

  • always wash your hands with warm, soapy water after using the toilet or changing diapers and before fixing food or eating
  • use bottled water for drinking, making ice cubes, and washing fruits and vegetables when you are in a developing country
  • tell your doctor and your dentist if you have hepatitis A
Drawing of a pair of hands being washed with soap under a sink faucet.
Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water after using the toilet or changing diapers and before fixing food or eating.

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What should I do if I think I have been in contact with the hepatitis A virus?

See your doctor right away if you think you have been in contact with the hepatitis A virus. A dose of the hepatitis A vaccine or a medicine called hepatitis A immune globulin may protect you from getting sick if taken shortly after coming into contact with the hepatitis A virus.

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Eating, Diet, and Nutrition

If you have hepatitis A, you should do things to take care of yourself, including eating a healthy diet. Avoid drinking alcohol, which can harm the liver. Talk with your doctor before taking vitamins and other supplements.

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Points to Remember

  • Hepatitis A is a virus, or infection, that causes inflammation of the liver.
  • Anyone can get hepatitis A, but some people are more likely to than others.
  • You could get hepatitis A through contact with an infected person’s stool.
  • Most people do not have any symptoms of hepatitis A.
  • Children younger than age 6 may have no symptoms of hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis A may cause mild, flulike symptoms in older children and adults.
  • See a doctor right away if you or a child in your care has symptoms of hepatitis A.
  • A blood test will show if you have hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis A usually gets better in a few weeks without treatment.
  • You can avoid getting hepatitis A by receiving the hepatitis A vaccine.
  • Tell your doctor and your dentist if you have hepatitis A.
  • See your doctor right away if you think you have been in contact with the hepatitis A virus.

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Hope through Research

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) supports basic and clinical research into many digestive disorders, including hepatitis A. Researchers are studying new ways to prevent hepatitis A.

Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. For information about current studies, visit www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

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Pronunciation Guide

hepatitis (HEP-uh-TY-tiss)

inflammation (IN-fluh-MAY-shuhn)

jaundice (JAWN-diss)

vaccine (vak-SEEN)

virus (VY-ruhss)

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For More Information

American Liver Foundation
39 Broadway, Suite 2700
New York, NY 10006
Phone: 1–800–GO–LIVER (1–800–465–4837) or 212–668–1000
Fax: 212–483–8179
Email: info@liverfoundation.org
Internet: www.liverfoundation.orgleaving site icon

Hepatitis Foundation International
504 Blick Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20904
Phone: 1–800–891–0707 or 301–622–4200
Fax: 301–622–4702
Email: info@hepatitisfoundation.org
Internet: www.hepfi.orgleaving site icon

National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1–800–CDC–INFO (1–800–232–4636)
TTY: 1–888–232–6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Internet: www.cdc.gov/nchhstp

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) also has booklets about hepatitis B and hepatitis C:

Photographs of covers of the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse booklets about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

You can get a free copy of each booklet by calling 1–800–891–5389, by going online to www.catalog.niddk.nih.gov, or by writing to

NDDIC
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3570

Hepatitis information for health professionals is also available.

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Acknowledgments

Publications produced by the Clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. The NDDIC would like to thank the following individuals for providing scientific and editorial review or facilitating field-testing of the original version of this publication:

Bruce Bacon, M.D.
American Liver Foundation
New York, NY

Theo Heller, M.D.
NIDDK, National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD

Luby Garza-Abijaoude, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Texas Department of Health
Austin, TX

Thelma Thiel, R.N.
Hepatitis Foundation International
Cedar Grove, NJ


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3570
Phone: 1–800–891–5389
TTY: 1–866–569–1162
Fax: 703–738–4929
Email: nddic@info.niddk.nih.gov
Internet: www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the Clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. The NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.

This publication is not copyrighted. The Clearinghouse encourages users of this publication to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

This publication may contain information about medications. When prepared, this publication included the most current information available. For updates or for questions about any medications, contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toll-free at 1–888–INFO–FDA (1–888–463–6332) or visit www.fda.gov. Consult your health care provider for more information.


NIH Publication No. 13–4244
December 2012

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Page last updated December 19, 2012


The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3570
Phone: 1–800–891–5389
TTY: 1–866–569–1162
Fax: 703–738–4929
Email: nddic@info.niddk.nih.gov
Internet: www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov

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