Learning About Hepatitis A

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The digestive system

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is found in the stool of a person who has the disease. It is spread when people eat food or drink water that has come in contact with the infected stool. This can happen if a person eats food prepared by someone who doesn't wash their hands after changing a diaper or going to the bathroom. It also can be spread when people touch items that have infected stool on them, and then drink or eat without washing their hands.

In countries that have poor sewer systems, people can get the virus by drinking the water or eating foods washed in the water.

A person can get the hepatitis A virus only once. After that, the body builds up a defense against it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Vomiting.

Symptoms usually last about 3 months. They go away on their own in almost all cases and do not need treatment. Although hepatitis A is an infection of the liver, the disease does not lead to long-term liver problems.

How can you prevent it?

You can get hepatitis A or give it to other people before and after symptoms are present.

To avoid getting hepatitis A:

  • Talk to your doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine. People who may need it include travelers to countries where the disease is common, men who have sex with men, and people with liver disease.
  • Get the vaccine or a shot of immunoglobulin (IG) within 2 weeks of known exposure. It may prevent the disease.
  • Make sure you and your family wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after using the toilet or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.

To avoid spreading hepatitis A if you have it:

  • Tell people you live with or have sex with that you have the disease. They should see their doctor.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water after you use the toilet and before you prepare or eat food.

How is hepatitis A treated?

There is no treatment for hepatitis A. You get better on your own. You can take steps to help yourself feel better:

  • Reduce your activity level to meet your energy level.
  • Eat regular meals. If you feel sick to your stomach, eat many small meals rather than three large meals.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. Using drugs or alcohol may make the disease last longer.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.