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Diseases & Topics

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, acute liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is one of the most common types of viral hepatitis and is highly contagious. Hepatitis A virus is usually spread from person to person when people put something in their mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with Hepatitis A. This is called a "fecal-oral" route of transmission. With this type of transmission, the virus is more easily spread in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or where good personal hygiene is not followed.

Most HAV infections in the United States result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has been infected with Hepatitis A. However, HAV may also be spread by consuming food or drink that has been handled by an infected person. Water-borne outbreaks are infrequent and are usually associated with exposure to water that is sewage-contaminated or inadequately treated. HAV is generally not spread by casual contact with an infected person, such as an office, factory or school setting.

A person is contagious about two weeks before and one week after symptoms appear. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and can include abrupt onset of fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or white of the eyes). Infection with HAV is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without complications. Adults are more likely than children to develop symptoms. Symptoms commonly appear within 28 days of exposure, with a range of 15-50 days.

There are no special medicines or antibiotics that can be used to treat a person once symptoms appear. Generally, bed rest and a healthy diet are all that's needed. Once a person recovers from Hepatitis A, he or she is immune to re-infection for life and can not spread the illness to others.

Prevention

The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination with the Hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for all children age one and up, for travelers countries where Hepatitis A is common, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus, such as:

  • Men who have sexual contact with other men;
  • Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs;
  • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C;
  • People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates;
  • People who work with Hepatitis A-infected animals or in a Hepatitis A research laboratory;
  • People who live with someone who has Hepatitis A; or
  • People who have oral-anal sexual contact with someone who has Hepatitis A.

The second most important way to prevent person-to-person spread is careful hand washing after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

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