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Hepatitis A - The Facts

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Published on June 12, 2017. Last modified on December 16, 2019

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus.  It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.  Some people get hepatitis A and have no symptoms of the disease. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.  Symptoms may include the following:

  • FeverCDC_Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)
     Photo: Example of Jaundice

A person can get hepatitis A through: 

  • person to person contact.
  • when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food.
  • when a parent or caregiver does not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person.
  • when someone has sex or sexual contact with an infected person. (not limited to anal-oral contact)
  • contaminated food or water.  This can include frozen or undercooked food.

Although anyone can get Hepatitis A, in the United States, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:

  • Travel to or live in countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Are family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Live with someone who has Hepatitis A
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Use illegal drugs, whether injected or not
  • Have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia
  • Have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A

The hepatitis A virus is extremely hardy. It is able to survive the body’s highly acidic digestive tract and can live outside the body for months.  High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185°F (85°C), kill the virus, although freezing temperatures do not.  Chlorination in municipal water supplies kills the hepatitis A virus.

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