Hepatitis A Just a Little Prick

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects and can damage the liver. It is usually passed from one person to another through contaminated food or water, or through sexual contact. Hepatitis A can sometimes lead to hospitalization. In rare cases, it can lead to severe liver problems or death.

You can avoid infection by getting vaccinated or regularly washing your hands with soap.

Ask your doctor about getting the hepatitis A vaccine. You can also visit one of the Health Department’s immunization walk-in clinics.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis A can appear between two and seven weeks after exposure. Most people start experiencing symptoms about one month after being exposed, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Not everyone who is infected will have all of these symptoms.

Symptoms can become severe and lead to hospitalization or death, but most people get better within a few weeks. Less than 1% of cases result in death. People who have chronic liver disease or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for serious illness.

About a third of hepatitis A cases occur in children. Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than older children and adults.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you think you may have hepatitis A, your doctor can check with a blood test.

There is no treatment for hepatitis A once symptoms appear, but most people fully recover on their own by resting and not drinking alcohol. People with hepatitis A should also avoid taking drugs that can hurt their liver, such as acetaminophen or Tylenol™.

Avoiding Infection

The hepatitis A virus enters the body through the mouth and is passed in the stool (feces). It can be carried on an infected person’s hands and spread through direct and indirect contact, such as by eating food that was handled by an infected person. Hepatitis A may also be transmitted if someone is exposed to stool during sexual activity.

Infected people are most likely to spread the virus in the two weeks before symptoms appear and in the first week with symptoms.

You can avoid infection and transmission by:

  • Getting vaccinated.
  • Washing your hands with soap regularly, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Avoiding sexual practices that may result in hand or mouth exposure to stool (NYC Condoms prevent other STIs, including HIV, but may not prevent hepatitis A).
  • Using bottled water or boiling tap water for one minute if you are in a country where hepatitis A is common. Also, avoid eating shellfish that may have come from a contaminated water source in those countries.

If you have had hepatitis A and recovered from the disease, you are now immune and can never get infected again or spread the virus.


Additional Resources

More Hepatitis Information