Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person.

Exposure

How is Hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is usually spread when the Hepatitis A virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces (or stool) of an infected person. A person can get Hepatitis A through:

  • Person to person contact, when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper and touches other objects or food, or when someone has sexual contact with an infected person.
  • Contaminated food or water, spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus. In the United States, chlorination of water kills Hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply.

I think I have been exposed to Hepatitis A. What should I do?

Contact your local healthcare provider. You can also call the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department at 512-972-4372.  

If you were recently exposed to Hepatitis A virus and have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis A, you might benefit from an injection of either immune globulin or Hepatitis A vaccine. However, they must be given within the first 2 weeks after exposure to be effective.

What should I do if I ate at a restaurant that had an outbreak of Hepatitis A?

Talk to your health professional or a local health department official for guidance. Outbreaks usually result from one of two sources of contamination: an infected food handler or an infected food source. We will investigate the cause of the outbreak.

Keep in mind that most people do not get sick when someone at a restaurant has Hepatitis A. However, if an infected food handler is infectious and has poor hygiene, the risk goes up for patrons of that restaurant. In such cases, we will try to identify patrons and provide Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin if we can find them within 2 weeks of exposure.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?

Some people with Hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days and usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)

Can a person spread Hepatitis A without having symptoms?

Yes. Many people, especially children, have no symptoms. In addition, a person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms appear.

How serious is Hepatitis A?

Almost all people who get Hepatitis A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death, although this is rare and occurs more commonly in persons 50 years of age or older and persons with other liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or C.

 For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.