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What I need to know about Hepatitis A
On this page:

What is hepatitis A?
What causes hepatitis A?
How could I get hepatitis A?
Who can get hepatitis A?
What are the symptoms?
How is hepatitis A treated?
How can I protect myself?
For More Information
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver disease.
Hepatitis (HEP-ah-TY-tis) makes your liver swell and stops it from working right.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it.


What causes hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus.
A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis A is called the hepatitis A virus.


How could I get hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is spread by close personal contact with someone else who has the infection.

You could also get hepatitis A by

eating food that has been prepared by someone with hepatitis A

drinking water that has been contaminated by hepatitis A (in parts of the world with poor hygiene and sanitary conditions)
Wash your hands before fixing or eating food.


Who can get hepatitis A?
Anyone can get hepatitis A.
But some people are more likely to than others:

Children in day care could get hepatitis A. people who live with someone who has hepatitis A

children who go to day care

people who work in a day care center

men who have sex with men

people who travel to other countries where hepatitis A is common


What are the symptoms?
Hepatitis A can make you feel like you have the flu.
You might
feel tired

feel sick to your stomach

have a fever

not want to eat

have stomach pain

have diarrhea

Some people have
dark yellow urine

light-colored stools

yellowish eyes and skin

Some people don't have any symptoms.
If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis A, go to a doctor. The doctor will test your blood.


How is hepatitis A treated?
Most people who have hepatitis A get well on their own after a few weeks.
You may need to rest in bed for several days or weeks, and you won't be able to drink alcohol until you are well. The doctor may give you medicine for your symptoms.

Bed rest and medicine will help you get better.


How can I protect myself?
You can get the hepatitis A vaccine.
Vaccines protect you from getting hepatitis A.     A vaccine is a drug that you take when you are healthy that keeps you from getting sick. Vaccines teach your body to attack certain viruses, like the hepatitis A virus.

The hepatitis A vaccine is given through a shot. Children can get the vaccine after they turn 2 years old. Children aged 2 to 18 will need three shots. The shots are spread out over a year. Adults get two or three shots over 6 to 12 months.

You need all of the shots to be protected. If you are traveling to other countries, make sure you get all the shots before you go. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.

You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis A in these ways, too:
Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before fixing food or eating.

Wear gloves if you have to touch other people's stool. Wash your hands afterwards.

Drink bottled water when you are in another country. (And don't use ice cubes or wash fruits and vegetables in tap water.)
Wash your hands to protect yourself.


For More Information
You can also get information about hepatitis A from these groups:

American Liver Foundation (ALF)
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038-4810
24-hour helpline (7 days/week): 1-800-465-4837 or 1-888-443-7222
Phone: 1-800-676-9340 or (212) 668-1000
Fax: (212) 483-8179
Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI)
504 Blick Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20904-2901
Phone: 1-800-891-0707 or (301) 622-4200
Fax: (301) 622-4702

There are other types of hepatitis. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse also has booklets about hepatitis B and hepatitis C:

What I need to know about Hepatitis B

What I need to know about Hepatitis C

You can get a free copy of each of these booklets by calling 1-800-891-5389 or (301) 654-3810, or by writing to

2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
Hepatitis information for health professionals is also available.

The individuals listed here provided editorial guidance or facilitated field testing for this publication. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse would like to thank these individuals for their contribution.

Bruce Bacon, M.D.
Chair, Education Committee
American Liver Foundation
New York, NY

Luby Garza-Abijaoude, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Texas Department of Health
Austin, TX

Thelma Thiel, R.N., B.A.
Hepatitis Foundation International
Cedar Grove, NJ



National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.

Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts.

This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.


NIH Publication No. 04-4244
December 2003

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