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Hepatitis A is a virus that can infect the liver. In most cases, the infection goes away on its own and doesn't lead to long-term liver problems.
In rare cases, it can be more serious.
Other viruses (hepatitis B and
hepatitis C) also can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis A is the
most common type.
The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of an infected
person. It is spread when a person eats food or drinks water that has come in
contact with infected stool.
Sometimes a group of people who eat
at the same restaurant can get hepatitis A. This can happen when an employee
with hepatitis A doesn't wash his or her hands well after using the bathroom
and then prepares food. It can also happen when a food item is contaminated by raw sewage or by an infected garden worker.
The disease can also spread in day care
centers. Children, especially those in diapers, may get
stool on their hands and then touch objects that other children put into their
mouths. And workers can spread the virus if they don't wash their hands well after
changing a diaper.
Some things can raise your risk of getting
hepatitis A, such as eating raw oysters or undercooked clams. If you're
traveling in a country where hepatitis A is common, you can lower your chances
of getting the disease by avoiding uncooked foods and untreated tap
You may also be at risk if you live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
After you have been exposed
to the virus, it can take from 2 to 7 weeks before you see any signs of it.
Symptoms usually last for about 2 months but may last longer.
All forms of hepatitis have similar symptoms. Only a
blood test can tell if you have hepatitis A or another form of the disease.
Call your doctor if you have reason to think that you have hepatitis A or have been exposed to it. (For example, did you recently eat in a restaurant where a server was found to have hepatitis A? Has there been an outbreak at your child's day care? Does someone in your house have hepatitis A?)
Your doctor will ask
questions about your symptoms and where you have eaten or traveled. You may
have blood tests if your doctor thinks you have the virus. These tests can tell
if your liver is inflamed and whether you have
antibodies to the hepatitis A virus. These antibodies
prove that you have been exposed to the virus.
Hepatitis A goes away on its
own in most cases. Most people get well within a few months. While you have hepatitis:
If hepatitis A causes more serious illness, you may need to stay in the hospital to prevent problems while your liver heals.
Be sure to take steps to avoid
spreading the virus to others.
You can only get the hepatitis A virus once. After
that, your body builds up a defense against it.
Learning about hepatitis A:
Preventing hepatitis A:
The American Liver Foundation (ALF) funds research and
informs the public about liver disease. A nationwide network of chapters and
support groups exists to help people who have liver disease and to help their families. ALF
also sponsors a national organ-donor program to increase public awareness of
the continuing need for organs. You can send an email by completing a form on the contact page on the ALF website: www.liverfoundation.org/contact.
The Division of Viral Hepatitis provides information
about viral hepatitis online and by telephone 24 hours a day. Pamphlets also
are available. Information is available in English and in Spanish.
This organization is a grassroots communication and support network
for people with viral hepatitis. It provides education to patients,
professionals, and the public about the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of
viral hepatitis. The organization will make referrals to local doctors and
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) works to raise awareness of the need for immunizations to help prevent disease. The website has videos and photos about how vaccines work and the diseases the vaccines prevent.
The site also offers information about vaccine safety and common concerns and myths about
This clearinghouse is a service of the U.S. National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the
U.S. National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse answers questions;
develops, reviews, and sends out publications; and coordinates information
resources about digestive diseases. Publications produced by the clearinghouse
are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Update: Prevention of hepatitis A after exposure to hepatitis A virus and in international travelers. Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 56(RR-41): 1080–1084. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5641a3.htm.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Hepatitis A. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 329–337. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Prevention of hepatitis A through active or passive immunization: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 55 (RR-7): 1–23. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/rr/rr5507.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Updated recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for use of hepatitis A vaccine in close contacts of newly arriving international adoptees. MMWR, 58(36): 1006–1007. Also available online:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR-12): 1–110. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
Curry MP, Chopra S (2010). Acute viral hepatitis. In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1577–1592. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Weller PF (2009). Health advice for international travelers. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, Clinical Essentials, chap. 7. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
August 30, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology
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