Revised: November 2017

Definition

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. Most people who are infected recover completely. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not develop into chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and death from hepatitis A infection is rare.

Signs and Symptoms

Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may have:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Stomach pains
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)

 

Infants and young children often do not show any symptoms, however, they are still able to spread the virus to others.Symptoms usually appear within 30 days after contact with hepatitis A, but the range can be from 15 to 50 days.

Causes

Hepatitis A infection is caused by transmission of the hepatitis A virus.

Diagnosis

A health care provider can arrange for a blood test which can detect if you currently have hepatitis A. It can also determine if you have had hepatitis A in the past or if you have already received the vaccine.

Complications (that may arise)

Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. However, supportive care such as adequate nutrition and avoiding drinking alcohol during the acute phase of illness may reduce complications. Most people recover after 4 to 6 weeks.

Transmission / Spread

Hepatitis A is spread from person-to-person by putting anything in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A (also known as the “fecal-oral” route).

This means that if someone with hepatitis A infection handles food without properly washing their hands after using the toilet and you eat that food contaminated with the virus, you could get Hepatitis A.

It is not spread by coughing or sneezing.

You can also get hepatitis A by:

  • Drinking water contaminated with human sewage (Canadian tap water is safe).
  • Eating raw shellfish from water polluted with human sewage.
  • Sharing needles and other drug items used for injection and non-injection drugs.
  • Having sex with an infected partner, even if that person has no signs or symptoms. This is because hepatitis A is most contagious before signs and symptoms ever appear.

A person with hepatitis A can pass the virus to others for 1 to 2 weeks before they start to show symptoms. People can remain infectious for up to 1 week after they get sick.

Once you have had hepatitis A you cannot get it again.

Prevention

Get the hepatitis A vaccine

  • Two doses (needles) of Hepatitis A vaccine, separated by at least 6 months, are needed for long-term protection. Hepatitis A vaccine is covered for free in Ontario for certain groups at higher risk.  The cost may also be covered by private health insurances.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine is offered free of cost to Ontario residents in the following groups:
  • Individuals with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and C
  • Individuals who use injection drugs
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)

Note: One dose may also be provided for free if recommended by Toronto Public Health to persons exposed to a case to provide short-term protection against a recent exposure.

Additional Ways to Reduce Risk

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water after using the toilet, changing a diaper, helping someone who has diarrhea, helping children use the toilet, and before eating or preparing food.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly soiled.
  • Heating food to 185 degrees Fahrenheit or 85 degrees Celsius for 1 minute will kill the hepatitis A virus.
  • Do not eat raw seafood and vegetables washed in untreated water. If you are traveling, especially outside of North America, be sure the water supply is safe before drinking it and use caution when consuming ice.
  • Use barrier protections and practice good hand hygiene to reduce the risk from fecal / oral sexual transmission.

More information

For more information contact Toronto Health Connection: 416-338-7600, TTY: 416-392-0658, or speak with your doctor for more information about the hepatitis A vaccine.