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Hepatitis A

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Hepatitis is swelling or inflammation of the liver which can be caused by a variety of factors. Hepatitis A is a specific type of hepatitis which is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is a contagious disease which means it can spread from one person to another. A mild case of HAV may last only a few weeks while a more serious case can last several months.

The most common way to catch the Hepatitis A virus is by taking fecal matter (stool or poop) into your mouth. It only takes a tiny amount of contamination to transfer the virus. There are two general ways the virus can be transferred.

Person-to-person contact:

• An infected person can share the virus if he does not wash his hands after using the bathroom. Tiny bits of contamination can be left on objects such as doorknobs or other things he touches or can get into food that he prepares.

• A parent or caregiver can contract the virus or pass it on to others if she does not wash her hands after changing a diaper, emptying a bedpan, or helping clean someone who is infected.

• Certain types of sexual activity with an infected person, especially oral-anal contact, can pass on the virus.

Food or water

Another way to catch the Hepatitis A virus is by eating or drinking something that is contaminated with the virus. This is a greater danger in countries where Hepatitis A is more common and in areas with poor sanitary conditions. Chlorination kills the Hepatitis A virus in water in the United States.

The number of cases of Hepatitis A virus in the United States is going down, in part due to the availability of a vaccine to prevent people from catching the virus. A vaccine is a shot that helps the body build up defenses against a particular virus, such as the flu.

The Hepatitis A vaccine is a “killed” or “inactive” vaccine. This means there is no live virus in the vaccine, so you cannot get Hepatitis A by taking the vaccine. The HAV vaccine will only protect you from Hepatitis A. Anyone who gets this vaccine is still able to get other kinds of hepatitis.

The HAV vaccine is recommended for all children over the age of one year as well as people who are at higher risk for catching Hepatitis A. If you are going to be traveling to an area where HAV is more common, talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk of catching Hepatitis A.

Your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated before your trip. Areas where HAV is more common include Africa, parts of Asia (not Japan), the Mediterranean, Easter Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico and some locations in the Caribbean.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 25,000 new cases of Hepatitis A in the United States every year. However, many people who have HAV do not realize they have it, so the number of reported cases is lower. Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include:

• Fever
• Being tired
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea or vomiting
• Dark urine
• Pale bowel movements
• Pain in the abdomen or joints
• Yellow color in the skin or eyes (jaundice)

If you believe you may have been exposed to Hepatitis A, talk to your doctor right away. Some preventive measures can be started up to two weeks after exposure to limit Hepatitis A symptoms.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heptatitis A Information for the Public. Web. August 29, 2011.

Medline Plus. Hepatitis A – vaccine. Web. August 29, 2011.

Medline Plus. Hepatitis A. Web. August 29, 2011.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). What I need to know about Hepatitis A. Web. August 29, 2011.

Family Doctor.org. Hepatitis A. Web. August 29, 2011.

Reviewed August 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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