Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis (infection and inflammation in the liver).  Symptoms are usually mild, especially for children, lasting one to two weeks. Most people recover without treatment. For a very small number of people, HAV can be deadly and severe infections can last several months. People who recover from the virus are protected for life from getting it again.

Hepatitis A infection in Canada is usually related to travelling to other countries where the risk for infection is higher and is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in travellers.

HAV is found in the stool and blood of someone who is infected. It spreads through close contact with an infected person or by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

Although Canada has one of the highest food safety standards in the world, food and drinks can become contaminated when an infected person does not wash their hands properly after using the washroom and then prepares food.

Common food sources of hepatitis A include:

  • contaminated water
  • raw or undercooked seafood
  • raw fruits and vegetables

You can also get the virus by sharing drug-use equipment or having sexual contact with an infected person.

Many people, especially children, may have no symptoms but can still spread the infection for up to six months.

If you are sick with hepatitis A, it’s important to wash your hands frequently, especially after using the washroom, and to avoid preparing food for others to prevent further spread of the virus.

Not everyone with hepatitis A develop symptoms. Adults are more likely than children to have symptoms and become very sick with the virus. If symptoms develop, they usually last less than two months, but can last up to six months. Symptoms usually start to appear two to seven weeks after first coming in contact with the virus.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Loss of appetite or feeling less hungry than usual
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine or light- colored stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Feeling tired

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is usually given in two doses, six months apart. The vaccine will give protection for 20 years or longer. A combined vaccine for hepatitis A and hepatitis B is also available.

Since many reported cases of hepatitis A in Canada are in travelers, it is recommended to protect yourself with hepatitis A vaccination before travelling.

The vaccine can also be given to close contacts of an infected person, to prevent infection and ongoing spread in the community.

Individuals at higher risk of infection and close contacts of an infected person may be eligible to receive the vaccine for free. Speak with a healthcare provider if you are unsure about your coverage. You can get the hepatitis A vaccine at the same time as other vaccines.

Hepatitis A can be diagnosed based on your symptoms and through a blood test that can show whether you have been recently infected with the hepatitis A virus.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Most people sick with the virus will recover on their own if they get enough rest, eat well and drink enough fluids. However, some people with severe symptoms may need medical care or require hospitalization.

  • Talk to your health care provider or Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600
  • Call 811 to connect to a registered nurse day or night for free, secure, and confidential health advice.