Hepatitis A

  • Definition

    Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver from the hepatitis A virus.

    See also:

    • Hepatitis
    • Hepatitis A vaccine
    • Hepatitis B
    • Hepatitis C

    Alternative Names

    Viral hepatitis; Infectious hepatitis


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stools and blood of an infected person about 15 - 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.

    You can catch hepatitis A if:

    • You eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated by stools (feces) containing the hepatitis A virus (fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common sources of the hepatitis A virus)
    • You come in contact with the stool or blood of a person who currently has the disease
    • A person with hepatitis A does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
    • You participate in sexual practices that involve oral-anal contact

    About 3,600 cases of hepatitis A are reported each year. Because not everyone has symptoms with hepatitis A infection, many more people are infected than are diagnosed or reported.

    Risk factors include:

    • International travel, especially to Asia or South or Central America
    • IV drug use
    • Living in a nursing home or rehabilitation center
    • Working in a health care, food, or sewage industry

    Other common hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is the least serious and mildest of these diseases. The other hepatitis infections may become chronic illnesses, but hepatitis A does not become chronic.