What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an extremely contagious infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis A virus and causes inflammation of the liver which affects the liver’s ability to function. It is one of three of the most common types of hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is the mildest form of hepatitis. There are about 20,000 people in the United States who get hepatitis A every year.


People often contract hepatitis A from consuming food or water that has been contaminated. People may also be exposed by having close contact with another person who is infected with the virus, or engaging in oral or anal sex. The virus is found in the stool of an infected person. When hepatitis A is mild, it usually does not require treatment. It usually takes about three months for the virus to go away. People can usually heal on their own. Once a person has been infected with hepatitis A, they become immune to it and cannot get it again.

The signs and symptoms of hepatitis A usually do not show up until the virus has been in your body for a couple of weeks. The signs and symptoms of hepatitis A may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort (especially near your liver on the right side beneath your lower ribs), clay-colored bowel movements, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, dark urine, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (also known as jaundice).

A person usually gets hepatitis A by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. Once the liver becomes inflamed, the liver function can become impaired and cause other signs and symptoms. The virus can be transmitted a number of way such as by eating food handled by someone with the virus who doesn't thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet, drinking contaminated water, eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage, being in close contact with a person who's infected (even if that person has no signs or symptoms), or having sex with someone who has the virus.

You are at increased risk of hepatitis A if you travel or work in regions with high rates of hepatitis A, attend child care or work in a child care center, are a man who has sexual contact with other men, are HIV positive, have a clotting-factor disorder (such as hemophilia), use illicit drugs, live with another person who has hepatitis A, or have oral or anal contact with someone who has hepatitis A.