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Hepatitis A

Definition

Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver from the hepatitis A virus.

Alternative Names

Viral hepatitis; Infectious hepatitis

Causes

The hepatitis A virus is found mostly in the stools and blood of an infected person. The virus is present about 15 to 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.

You can catch hepatitis A if:

Not everyone has symptoms with hepatitis A infection, so many more people are infected than are diagnosed or reported.

Risk factors include:

Other common hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is the least serious and mildest of these diseases.

Symptoms

Symptoms most often show up 2 to 6 weeks after being exposed to the hepatitis A virus. They are usually mild, but may last for up to several months, especially in adults.

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam, which may show that your liver is enlarged and tender.

Blood tests may show:

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The virus does not remain in the body after the infection is gone.

Most people with hepatitis A recover within 3 months. Nearly all patients get better within 6 months.

There is a low risk of death. The risk is higher among the elderly and persons with chronic liver disease.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis.

Prevention

The following tips can help reduce your risk of spreading or catching the virus:

The virus may spread more rapidly through day care centers and other places where people are in close contact. Thorough hand washing before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom may help prevent such outbreaks.

Ask your doctor or nurse about getting either immune globulin or the hepatitis A vaccine if you are exposed to the disease and have not had hepatitis A or the hepatitis A vaccine.

Common reasons for getting one or both of these treatments include:

Vaccines that protect against hepatitis A infection are available. The vaccine begins to protect 4 weeks after you get the first dose. You will need to get a booster shot 6- to 12-months later for long-term protection.

Travelers should take the following steps to protect against getting the disease:

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended adult immunization schedule - United States, 2012. MMWR. 2012;61(4).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years - United States, 2012, MMWR 2012;61(05);1-4.

Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Update: Prevention of hepatitis A after exposure to hepatitis A virus and in international travelers. Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2007;56:1080-1084.

Wedemeyer H, Pawlotsky JM. Acute viral hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 150.

Sjogren MH, Cheatham JG. Hepatitis A. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 77.

Victor JC, Monto AS, Surdina TY, Suleimenova SZ, Vaughan G, Nainan OV, Favorov MO, Margolis HS, Bell BP. Hepatitis A vaccine versus immune globulin for postexposure prophylaxis. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1685-1694.



Review Date: 10/13/2013
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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