You’re most likely to contract hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with someone who’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment, and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage.
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms, which typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks, may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
If you have hepatitis A, you may have a mild illness that lasts a few weeks or a severe illness that lasts several months. Not everyone with hepatitis A develops signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of hepatitis A.
If you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, having a hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin therapy within two weeks of exposure may protect you from infection. Ask your doctor or your local health department about receiving the hepatitis A vaccine if:
- You’ve traveled internationally recently, particularly to Mexico or South or Central America, or to areas with poor sanitation
- A restaurant where you recently ate reports a hepatitis A outbreak
- Someone close to you, such as someone you live with or your caregiver, is diagnosed with hepatitis A
- You recently had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus, which causes the infection, usually is spread when a person ingests even tiny amounts of contaminated fecal matter. The hepatitis A virus infects liver cells and causes inflammation. The inflammation can impair liver function and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis A.
- Eating food handled by someone with the virus who doesn’t thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet
- Drinking contaminated water
- Eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage
- Being in close contact with a person who’s infected — even if that person has no signs or symptoms
- Having sex with someone who has the virus