The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stool and blood of an infected person about 15 – 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.
You can catch hepatitis A if:
- You eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated by stools (feces) containing the hepatitis A virus (fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common sources of the hepatitis A virus)
- You come in contact with the stool or blood of a person who currently has the disease
- A person with hepatitis A does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
- You participate in sexual practices that involve oral-anal contact
- About 3,600 cases of hepatitis A are reported each year. Because not everyone has symptoms with hepatitis A infection, many more people are infected than are diagnosed or reported.
- Joint pain
Risk factors for developing hepatitis A include:
- International travel, particularly to developing countries
- Intravenous drug use
- Living with an infected individual
- Participating in sexual activities that include oral-anal contact
When to See a Doctor
If you have symptoms that concern you and/or are consistent with hepatitis A, see a doctor for a thorough exam and consultation. Hepatitis A may resolve on its own but in some cases, treatment is necessary.
Treatment options for Hepatitis A may vary, however the condition usually resolves on its own over a period of several weeks to several months.
The foremost diagnostic "test" for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
- Imaging tests (which may include one or more of the following: ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan)
In some cases, standard diagnostic tests are not conclusive and additional testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis. These may include:
The hepatitis A vaccine offers immunity to adults and children older than age 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine hepatitis A vaccination for children aged 12 to 23 months and for adults who are at high risk for infection. Treatment with immune globulin can provide short-term immunity to hepatitis A when given before exposure or within 2 weeks of exposure to the virus. Avoiding tap water or foods washed in untreated water when traveling internationally and practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand washing, and sanitation also help prevent hepatitis A.
Learn more about hepatitis A with resources from the National Institutes of Health