Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The hepatitis A virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation that affects your liver's ability to function.
You're most likely to contract hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with someone who's already infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don't require treatment, and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage.
Practicing good hygiene — including washing your hands often — is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. Effective vaccines are available for people who are most at risk.
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms typically don't appear until you've had the virus for a few weeks. Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A include:
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A usually last less than two months, but may last as long as six months. Not everyone with hepatitis A develops signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
If you've been exposed to hepatitis A, you may prevent infection by having a hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin therapy within two weeks of exposure. Ask your doctor or your local health department about receiving the hepatitis A vaccine if:
Hepatitis A is caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus. The hepatitis virus is usually spread when a person ingests tiny amounts of contaminated fecal matter. The hepatitis A virus infects the liver cells and causes inflammation. The inflammation can impair liver function and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A virus can be transmitted several ways, such as:
You're at increased risk of hepatitis A if you:
Continuing signs and symptoms of hepatitis A
Acute liver failure
Preparing for your appointment
If someone close to you is diagnosed with hepatitis A, contact your doctor or your local health department to determine whether you may need the hepatitis A vaccine to prevent infection.
If you have signs and symptoms of hepatitis A, make an appointment with your family doctor or a general practitioner.
How to prepare
Questions to ask
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions that come to mind during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Blood tests are used to detect the presence of hepatitis A in your body. A sample of blood is taken, usually from a vein in your arm, and sent to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor may also discuss your signs and symptoms as part of making a diagnosis.
Treatments and drugs
No specific treatment exists for hepatitis A. Your body will clear the hepatitis A virus on its own. In most cases of hepatitis A, the liver heals completely in a month or two with no lasting damage.
Hepatitis A treatment usually focuses on coping with signs and symptoms of hepatitis A infection. For instance:
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have hepatitis A, you can take steps to reduce the risk that you may pass the virus to others. Take steps to:
No complementary or alternative medicine treatments have proved helpful in preventing or treating hepatitis A infection.
One herb that continues to attract attention for its touted liver-health properties is milk thistle. Proponents of milk thistle recommend the herb to treat jaundice and other liver disorders. People take milk thistle as a capsule, extract or infusion.
Small studies of milk thistle treatment for liver disease have shown mixed results. Many of the studies have been poorly designed, making it difficult for researchers to draw conclusions about the usefulness of milk thistle.
If you're interested in trying milk thistle, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Coping and support
If you've been diagnosed with hepatitis A, you may be afraid of what it means for your health and worried that you might pass the virus to others. To help you cope, consider trying to:
Consider the hepatitis A vaccine
If you're concerned about your risk of hepatitis A, ask your doctor about whether the vaccine is right for you.
Follow safety precautions when traveling
Practice good hygiene
Last Updated: 2011-09-01
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