Hepatitis A

(he-pa-TYE-tis)

What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Approximately 1000 – 3000 cases of Hepatitis A are reported each year. It is usually a self-limiting illness.

Symptoms and duration

Symptoms are usually abrupt and include fever, malaise, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, tiredness, nausea and vomiting followed in a few days by dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Symptoms of infection become more severe as people become older. Young children may not show any outward signs of infection apart from feeling unwell. Symptoms usually last less than two months, but may persist for as long as six months.

Incubation period

Symptoms usually occur within 28-30 days after the virus enters the body, but can begin within the range of 15–50 days.

Recovery, long-term effects and immunity

Most people recover completely and acquire life-long immunity. About 15% of people infected with Hepatitis A may experience relapsing symptoms over a six to nine month period. Death from Hepatitis A infection is rare.

How Is Hepatitis A Virus Spread?

Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with Hepatitis A. Once infected, a person can pass the virus to others for up to two weeks or more before they even know they are sick. People remain infectious for up to one week after they get sick, especially when they have jaundice.

Hepatitis A outbreaks have also been attributed to eating shellfish or any food that comes into contact with sewage contaminated water. Hepatitis A can also be spread through anal-oral sexual contact with a person who has Hepatitis A. If you have had close contact with a person with Hepatitis A, a vaccine is available that can help prevent you from getting sick if it is given within 14 days of your contact with the ill person.

How do you prevent Hepatitis A virus infection?

Thorough hand washing is the best prevention. Wash hands after using the toilet, changing diapers and before handling or eating food.

Do not eat raw shellfish and avoid eating raw fish.

If traveling outside Canada, be sure the water you drink is bottled or properly treated. Remember that ice cubes could be contaminated.

Avoid sex that involves anal contact.

Consider Hepatitis A immunization if your personal and/or professional life puts you at risk for Hepatitis A. The Hepatitis A vaccine consists of one dose, followed by a booster given six to12 months after the first dose. Protection is expected to last ten years after completion of the two doses.

If traveling to an area where Hepatitis A is common, immunization should be obtained.