What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a contagious disease that affects the liver. It is the most common type of hepatitis reported in the U.S. In children, the
disease is usually mild, but many adults who develop hepatitis A are ill enough to miss four to six weeks of work.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
The first symptoms a person experiences include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, diarrhea or constipation,
abdominal pain, and just “not feeling well.” In a few days, these symptoms may be followed by dark (brown or "tea-colored") urine and
jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). Infected persons usually feel better after one to two weeks, although they
may continue to feel tired for a few more weeks.
How is the hepatitis A virus spread?
Hepatitis A virus is usually spread from person-to-person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the
stool of a person with hepatitis A. This type of transmission is called the "fecal-oral" route. Poor personal hygiene after using the
rest room or changing diapers will contaminate the hands with feces and the hepatitis A virus. The virus can then be easily placed on
foods or toys that will be placed in the mouth of other people.
How soon do symptoms appear?
The first symptoms usually appear about one month after a person is exposed to the hepatitis A virus. However, the disease can develop
anytime between two to six weeks after infection.
How long can an infected person spread the virus?
An infected person can spread the virus for one to two weeks before the symptoms begin, and for about two weeks after symptoms of
dark urine, jaundice, or clay colored stool occur.
Who is at risk of getting hepatitis A?
The persons at greatest risk of getting hepatitis A are household members, close friends/contacts, and sexual contacts of a person with
hepatitis A. People at school, work, or who have brief, casual visits to the home of an infected person have little risk of getting the
disease. Persons that have had hepatitis A in the past cannot get it again. Hepatitis A can be prevented by getting vaccinated with the
hepatitis A vaccine.
What is the treatment for hepatitis A?
There are no specific medicines that will help a person to recover faster. Bed rest, drinking a lot of water, and eating a good diet are
important for recovery. Since hepatitis A affects the liver, people with this disease should not drink alcohol or take any drugs (including
aspirin and Tylenol) without first asking their doctor.
What can be done to protect a person that has been exposed to hepatitis A?
Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be given within two weeks after the last contact to the person with hepatitis A. PEP given within
that time period can prevent development of hepatitis A in persons who were exposed. The two types of PEP are immune globulin (IG)
and hepatitis A vaccine. The hepatitis A vaccine is given to persons aged 12 months—40 years, and IG is given to persons outside that
age range. PEP is recommended for all household members and close (including sexual) contacts of a person with hepatitis A.
How can hepatitis A be prevented?
For long-term protection, hepatitis A vaccine is best. To prevent person-to-person spread, careful hand washing after using the
bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food, is the single most important means of prevention.
For further information call or visit us on the World Wide Web
Acute Disease Service
Oklahoma State Department of Health
Phone (405) 271-4060
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