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What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (Hep A) is an infection of the liver, caused by the hepatitis A virus.

What are the symptoms of hep A?

After the germ enters the body, it can take 15 to 50 days before you may feel sick. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Fatigue (being tired, loss of energy)
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine (pee)

Young children usually do not get any symptoms. If they do get sick, it is usually very mild and brief, with fever only. Older children, teens, and adults are much more likely to get sick if infected with the hep A virus. People with chronic liver disease are at a higher risk of more serious complications from hep A.

How does hep A spread?

Hep A can be spread from person to person mostly through the “fecal-oral route” by:

  • Putting anything in your mouth that has feces (poop) on it. This includes drinking and eating contaminated water and food, and touching your mouth with unclean hands.
  • Participating in oral-anal sexual activity.

It is more common in countries where hygiene and water treatment are poor. People who live in or travel to such areas are at a higher risk of getting the infection. World Health Organization (2012) identifies countries in Asia, Africa, and South America as areas at risk.

How long is it contagious?

Hepatitis A is most contagious 2 weeks before symptoms appear and until 7 days after the start of jaundice. However, there are cases of infants and children who were contagious for up to six months after start of jaundice.

How is hep A treated?

If you or your child develops these symptoms, see your health care provider. Symptoms may last several weeks, but most healthy people can fight off the infection naturally. Treatment may include supportive care for symptoms. After recovering from a hep A infection, your body can recognize and better fight off the germs if exposed to them in the future, known as having “immunity”.

What if I have been exposed to someone who has hep A?

If you are a close contact, talk to your health care provider as you may need a vaccination (an injection by needle in your arm) that will help your body protect against hep A.

Close contacts of someone who has hep A are at a higher risk of getting sick themselves. People most at risk:

  • live in the same house
  • are sexual partners
  • share needles when using IV drugs
  • are food handlers
  • visited a place that served food or drinks by a person infected with hepatitis A during the contagious period

How is Hep A prevented?

Ways to prevent infection include:

  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after preparing foods, before eating, and after handling diapers and using the washroom. This is the best way to prevent infection.
  • Avoid preparing and/or sharing your food if you are sick.
  • Avoid drinking untreated water.
  • Practice safer sex.
  • If you have tested positive for Hepatitis A, do not donate blood for at least six months.
  • If appropriate, the hep A vaccination works well in protecting you from hep A. When travelling, visit your healthcare provider or a travel clinic at least six weeks before to assess your chances of infection and need for vaccination.

For more information contact the Health Unit or speak to your health care provider.

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