Hepatitis A is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable, liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Mild cases can last a few weeks while severe cases can last several months and can cause death.
How does it spread?
Hepatitis A spreads by putting something in your mouth (object, food, or drink) that has been in contact with the feces of an infected person. It can be spread:
- When an individual does not wash their hands after contact with infected stool (e.g., after using the bathroom or changing diapers)
- By having sexual contact or living with an infected partner
- By consuming food or drinks that are contaminated by the virus
What are the symptoms?
Not everyone shows symptoms. If symptoms develop, they usually appear 15-50 days after infection and can include:
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Grey stool
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Feeling tired
- Loss of appetite
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get hepatitis A. However, these groups are at the highest risk:
- Injection and non-injection illegal drug users
- People who have close contact, care for, or live with someone who has hepatitis A
- People who have sexual activities with someone who has hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- People with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
- People who work with the high risk populations listed above
- Healthcare workers
- Food handlers
How is it treated?
Treatment includes rest, good nutrition, fluids, and medical monitoring. Severe cases may need to be hospitalized. Most people who get hepatitis A recover completely and don’t have lasting liver damage. It’s important to see a doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.
How can first responders protect themselves from infection?
Use simple precautions such as washing hands after having contact with another individual and before touching or consuming food and beverages. Wear gloves according to standard contact precautions. For responders who work with individuals at risk for hepatitis A infection, vaccination can provide additional protection.
For more information, visit www.jcphs.org.