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Hepatitis A Overview

On This Page: Causes | Risk Factors | Prevention

What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can complicate how well the liver functions. This inflammation can occur due to heavy alcohol use, exposure to certain toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions, such as viral infections hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

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Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can be easily spread from sexual activities, consuming contaminated food/drinks, or from improper hand washing. If you think you may have been exposed, order our fast & affordable Hepatitis A test.

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What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (HAV) is a contagious, acute (sudden and severe at the start) liver disease that, unlike hepatitis B and C, does not become chronic (gradually developing serious, long-term complications). Hepatitis A is a virus, and its infections can be mild and last a few weeks, or severe and last several months. People with hepatitis A are typically cured of the virus without treatment and often only need proper rest and fluid intake.

Adults can experience symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Low appetite

How Common Is It?

The most common hepatitis viruses in the U.S. are hepatitis A, B, and C. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1995, rates have declined by more than 95% thanks to the vaccine becoming available.1 In 2016, there were only an estimated 4,000 hepatitis A cases in the U.S.

Most types of hepatitis, especially hepatitis A, are much more common in developing countries.

How Serious Is It?

Most people with Hepatitis A will feel sick for several weeks but fortunately, it is normal to recover without permanent or lasting liver damage. It is not a disease that commonly becomes a chronic liver disease. However, while it is pretty rare, there have been cases reported where hepatitis A caused liver failure and even death. This happens more often in people beyond the age of 50 and in those with other liver conditions.

Causes

How Is Hepatitis A Transmitted?

Hepatitis A can be contracted or spread when an unvaccinated person eats or drinks infected fecal matter through objects, food, or drinks that carry the virus—even in microscopic amounts. Eating or drinking contaminated food or water is the most common way of contracting hepatitis A.2

Hep A can also be transmitted sexually whenever partners’ sexual fluids mix with infected fecal matter. The most common way to acquire hepatitis A sexually is through oral-anal contact with someone carrying the virus due to the chances of ingesting fecal matter. Symptoms are often mild or not apparent, and a person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms even appear.

A few other ways of transmitting hepatitis A include:

  • Close personal contact with infected persons who have poor hygiene
  • Sharing intravenous illegal drugs with an infected person
  • Anal sex

Is it Contagious?

Yes, it is. You are most contagious shortly after you acquire HAV, even if symptoms haven’t appeared yet. Once symptoms do begin to appear, after two weeks, you are no longer contagious. However, those with weak immune systems may be contagious for up to six months.3

Can I Get it Again?

No, if you have been infected with hepatitis A in the past, your body has developed antibodies to the hepatitis A virus, therefore you cannot get it again.

Risk factors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis A transmission is decreasing in the United States. Getting tested is especially important if you have traveled or lived in locations such as Eastern Europe, Africa, Mexico, Central or South America, or certain parts of Asia where hepatitis A is prevalent.

Those at a higher risk of acquiring HAV may include those who:

  • Live in areas that have a lack of safe water
  • Live in a household with an infected person
  • Have poor sanitation/hygiene
  • Are sexually active but are not vaccinated
  • Participate in anal sex or oral-anal contact
  • Travel to areas of high endemicity without being vaccinated
  • Work with nonhuman primates

Prevention

Vaccines

The best method for preventing hepatitis A is to get vaccinated as it is highly effective at preventing infection as well as providing long-term protection. The CDC recommends getting a shot of immune globulin (Ig) before traveling, or if you are at a high risk of contracting the virus.4 Hepatitis vaccines are considered highly effective and safe.

The following people are recommended a hepatitis A vaccination:

  • All children when they reach 1 year old
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is prevalent
  • Family/caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Those who participate in anal sex
  • Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not
  • People who live in unsanitary conditions or experiencing homelessness
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including HBV or HCV
  • People with clotting factor disorders
  • People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
  • Any person wishing to obtain immunity against the virus

What is Postexposure Prophylaxis (PEP)?

In the case of hepatitis A, PEP works as an injection of either the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin. Postexposure prophylaxis simply means to attempt at blocking or treating a disease after exposure. If you have ever been exposed to someone or you went through a scenario that had a high-risk factor of acquiring hepatitis A, PEP is an option at your disposal. However, PEP is only effective in preventing hepatitis A if given within the first 2 weeks after exposure.5

Other Ways to Avoid Hepatitis A

Thoroughly washing your hands with soap and hot water after coming into contact with fecal matter is key to avoiding the hepatitis A virus.

The good news is, once you have had the hepatitis A virus, you cannot get it again since your body has built up antibodies against it.

  1. “Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm
  2. “Hepatitis A.” The Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-a/symptoms-causes/syc-20367007
  3. “Hepatitis A: What You Should Know.” American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0615/p2169.html
  4. “Hepatitis A VIS.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hep-a.html
  5. Matheny, Samuel C., and Joe E. Kingery. "Hepatitis A." American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1201/p1027.html

Medically Reviewed by on February 12, 2019


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