What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a contagious viral infection that affects the liver. The hepatitis A virus causes an infection that can be easily spread from person to person through fecal contamination. It can be prevented by a vaccine. This article will explain its transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Person with yellowed eyes as seen in hepatitis A infection

Daniil Dubov / Getty Images

Hepatitis A Transmission

Hepatitis A primarily spreads when you come in contact with the stool of a person who has the virus, and it enters your body through your digestive system—often through contaminated food or water. This is known as the fecal-oral route of transmission.

This infection is very contagious, which means it spreads easily. It takes only microscopic amounts of contamination to spread the virus, so you will often be unaware that you have been exposed.

Transmission of the virus can happen by:

  • Eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis A who did not wash their hands
  • Drinking water or eating food washed in water that is contaminated with the virus 
  • Having close personal contact with a person who has hepatitis A 
  • Having oral-anal sex with a person who has hepatitis A
  • Using drugs with a person who has hepatitis A

You have a higher risk of getting hepatitis A if you: 

  • Visit developing countries 
  • Are experiencing homelessness
  • Use illegal drugs 
  • Care for a person with hepatitis A 
  • Live with a person with hepatitis A 
  • Are a man who has sex with men


You may not have symptoms right away or at all. Symptoms usually show up two to seven weeks after you are infected. Usually, symptoms last up to two months, but some people may have them for six months.

Common symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Fever 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain 
  • Dark urine 
  • Light-colored stools 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)


To diagnose hepatitis A, your healthcare provider will:

  • Ask about your medical history and symptoms 
  • Ask about your travel history 
  • Do a physical exam 
  • Order a blood test to look for antibodies (blood proteins produced by the immune system) to the hepatitis A virus


Although there are no specific medications or treatments to cure hepatitis A, you may need to:

  • Rest
  • Drink more fluids
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Manage nausea  
  • Avoid alcohol

Before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, supplements, or herbal remedies, talk to your healthcare provider. Some of these can further impair your liver and can lead to complications.

You will also need to take care not to spread the hepatitis A virus while you have the condition. Don't prepare food or drink for other people. Be diligent in washing your hands after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food. It's best to avoid close contact with other people, especially for the three weeks after you start to have symptoms.


Most people make a full recovery and do not have any complications. Rarely, some people may have liver failure, which is more likely to happen if they:

  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have another liver disease 


The hepatitis A virus is hardy, and it can remain contagious for months outside of the body. Freezing does not kill it, but high temperatures do. Heat food or water to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for at least one minute before cooling to make it safe to eat or drink.

The hepatitis A vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. Children between the ages of 12 months and 23 months receive a hepatitis A vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have not received the hepatitis A vaccine. 

Other ways to prevent infection include: 

  • Washing your hands with soap and water
  • Using bottled water when traveling in developing countries 
  • Not eating at street vendors when traveling in developing countries
  • Not eating raw or peeled fruits and vegetables when traveling in developing countries


Hepatitis A is a virus that spreads easily and affects your liver. Some people may not have any symptoms. Others develop symptoms such as fever, nausea, and jaundice that can last for two months. There is no specific treatment other than supportive measures. The hepatitis A vaccine can help prevent this infection.  

A Word From Verywell

If you think that you may have hepatitis A, talk to a healthcare provider right away to get tested. It is important to know if you are infected, so you can take precautions and prevent others from getting sick. 

If you have hepatitis A, follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for recovery. Most people can make a full recovery over time and have no complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does hepatitis A have a cure?

    No, there is no specific cure for hepatitis A. However, the hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection.

  • Who is more likely to show symptoms of hepatitis A?

    Some people do not show any symptoms after infection. Adults and children over the age of 6 are more likely to have symptoms.

  • Why is hepatitis A more common in developing countries?

    Developing countries are more likely to have sanitation problems and limited access to clean water. Contamination in water and food is also more common in developing countries.

  • How common is hepatitis A in the United States?

    In the United States, hepatitis A is not common, and only 3,366 people were infected in 2017.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis A.

  2. MedlinePlus. Hepatitis A.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis A questions and answers for the public.

  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hepatitis A.

By Lana Bandoim
Lana Bandoim is a science writer and editor with more than a decade of experience covering complex health topics.