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​What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is easily spread from person to person (highly contagious). It is caused by the hepatitis A virus.

Hepatitis is a redness or swelling (inflammation) of the liver that sometimes causes lasting damage. Hepatitis A is one type of hepatitis.

In most cases, hepatitis A does not cause a long-term or chronic infection. But it can take some time to fully get well. You may be sick for a few weeks, but it may take up to 6 months to fully recover.

In some cases hepatitis A can cause severe liver damage.

What causes hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is usually spread when the virus is taken in by mouth. This happens when you have contact with objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by the stool of an infected person.

This may happen through person to person contact such as:

  • When an infected person doesn't wash their hands well after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
  • When a parent or caregiver doesn't wash their hands well after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of someone who is infected
  • When you have sex with someone who is infected

This can also happen if you:

  • Eat food made by someone who touched infected stool
  • Drink water that is contaminated by infected stool (a problem in developing countries)

In rare cases, the virus may also be spread by contamination from blood and other body fluids (blood-borne infection).  

In most cases, normal contact in school or at work won't spread the virus.

Who is at risk for hepatitis A?

You may be at high risk for hepatitis A if you travel to places where the virus is common. These places include:

  • Africa
  • Asia (except Japan)
  • The Mediterranean basin
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Middle East
  • Central and South America
  • Mexico
  • Parts of the Caribbean

You may also be at high risk if you:

  • Are living in or moving to a place in the US or another country that has had 1 or more recorded large numbers of hepatitis A cases, or outbreaks, in the past 5years
  • Are in the military
  • Have unsafe sex  
  • Use illegal IV (intravenous) drugs
  • Have a blood disorder such as hemophilia, and need to take blood treatments
  • Work at a daycare center
  • Work in a nursing home, prison, or other type of care facility
  • Are a lab worker who handles live hepatitis A virus
  • Handle monkeys or apes (primates) that may have the hepatitis A virus

Hepatitis A is sometimes called a traveler's disease. It is a very common disease for travelers. But you can also get infected with hepatitis A in the U.S. In some cases people in the U.S. have gotten the virus without having any risk factors.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Symptoms of hepatitis A often look like flu symptoms. Each person's symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Overall feeling of weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Belly or abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Diarrhea

Some adults have no symptoms. Most children have no symptoms, especially children under 6 years old.

Hepatitis A symptoms can look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health.

A blood test called IgM anti-HAV is needed to be sure you have hepatitis A. This test looks for any infection-fighting cells (antibodies) you may have against the hepatitis A virus in your blood. If these antibodies are in your blood, that means you have had an infection.

How is hepatitis A treated?

Your healthcare provider will create a care plan for you based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and past health
  • How serious your case is
  • How well you handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • If your condition is expected to get worse
  • What you would like to do

Most people with hepatitis A get better without any medical care. In some cases bed rest and some medicines may be needed.

 

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't go away as soon as expected. Also call if your symptoms go away and then come back.

Key points

  • Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is easily spread from person to person (highly contagious). It is caused by the hepatitis A virus.
  • In most cases it doesn't cause a long-term or chronic infection.
  • In some cases it can cause severe liver damage.
  • Hepatitis A is usually spread when you have contact with objects, food, or drinks that are contaminated by the stool of an infected person.
  • Symptoms of hepatitis A can look like flu symptoms.
  • Some adults have no symptoms. Most children have no symptoms.
  • A blood test called IgM anti-HAV is needed to be sure you have hepatitis A.
  • You may be at high risk if you travel to places where the virus is common.
  • Other high risk factors include using illegal drugs, having unsafe sex, and working in a daycare center or nursing home.
  • Most people recover without any medical care.
  • You can help prevent it by getting an immune globulin shot or the hepatitis A vaccine.
  • All children 1 year old should have the hepatitis A vaccine.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes permanent liver damage.

There are several types of hepatitis. In hepatitis B, the liver is infected with the hepatitis B virus. This causes inflammation. The liver isn't able to work the way it should.

The liver is a large organ that lies up under the ribs on the right side of your belly (abdomen). It helps filter waste from your body, makes a fluid called bile to help digest food, and stores sugar that your body uses for energy.

In the U.S., hepatitis B is one of the most common diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine.

Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). It tends to become chronic most often in infants and young children, and less often in people infected as adults.

  • Acute hepatitis B. This is a brief infection (6 months or less) that goes away because the body gets rid of the virus.
  • Chronic hepatitis B. This is a long-lasting infection that happens when your body can't get rid of the virus. It causes long-term liver damage.

What causes hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other. This happens when you come into contact with another person's infected:  

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Saliva

Common ways this virus is spread are through:

  • Needle sticks
  • Sharp instruments
  • Shared razors and toothbrushes
  • Unprotected sex with an infected person
  • Sharing drug supplies

Babies may also get the disease if their mother has the virus. Infected children can spread the virus to other children if they play together often or if a child has many scrapes or cuts. But body fluids need to come in contact to spread the virus. So just playing next to a friend will not give someone hepatitis B. 

Who is at risk for hepatitis B?

Anyone can get hepatitis B by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of someone who is infected with hepatitis B.

Some people are at higher risk for getting hepatitis B. They include:

  • Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B
  • People from Asian and Pacific Island nations
  • People living in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
  • People living in households where someone is infected with the virus
  • People who have a blood-clotting disorder, such as hemophilia
  • People who need dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who use IV (intravenous) drugs
  • People who have unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sex, especially if they have many sex partners
  • People who have a job where they are in contact with human blood, body fluids, or needles
  • People who work or live in a prison
  • People who had blood transfusions, blood products, or organ transplants before the early 1990s
  • People taking medicines that weaken (suppress) the body's infection-fighting system (immune system)
  • People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or hepatitis C infections

Pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B has a wide range of symptoms. It may be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and death.

Each person's symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Fever
  • Muscle soreness
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Clay colored or light colored stools
  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • Confusion
  • Swollen belly from fluid

The symptoms of hepatitis B may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

To see if you have hepatitis B, your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and do a blood test.

If your healthcare provider suspects chronic hepatitis B, he or she may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver with a needle. These samples are checked under a microscope to find out the type of liver disease and how severe it is.

An ultrasound test is usually done as well to see if the liver looks very diseased. 

How is hepatitis B treated?

Hepatitis B is not treated unless it becomes a long-term (chronic) infection. Then medicines are used to try to slow down or stop the virus from damaging the liver. Most people get medicines they can take by mouth (orally). But some people get an injection. The decision to treat is complicated and based on many things. These include test results and how advanced your disease is.

Your symptoms will be closely watched and managed as needed. If severe liver damage occurs, you may need a liver transplant.

There is no cure for hepatitis B. Treatment is helpful to decrease the amount of virus in your blood and decrease risk of complications. 

 

Key points

  • Hepatitis B is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes permanent liver damage.
  • Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus.
  • People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other through infected blood and body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva.
  • You can protect yourself by using condoms during sex, not sharing needles, and not sharing toothbrushes or razors.
  • A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B.