South Dakota Department of Health
Office of Disease Prevention - 605-773-3737 — (1-800-592-1861 in South Dakota only)
This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute
for medical care. We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your
health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment or other medical advice.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A (formerly known as infectious hepatitis) is a liver disease caused by a virus.
Who gets hepatitis A?
Anyone can get hepatitis A, but it occurs more frequently in children.
How is the virus spread?
The hepatitis A virus enters through the mouth, multiplies in the body and is passed out in the feces. The virus can then be carried on an infected person's hands and can be spread by direct contact, or by consuming food or drink that has been handled by the individual. In some cases, it can be spread by consuming water contaminated with improperly treated sewage.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
The symptoms of hepatitis A may include fatigue, poor appetite, fever, abdominal discomfort, and vomiting. Urine may become darker, and then jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes) may appear. The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complications. Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults. Not everyone who is infected will have all of the symptoms.
How soon do symptoms appear?
The symptoms may appear two to seven weeks after exposure, average 28-30 days.
For how long is an infected person able to spread the virus?
The contagious period begins about a week or so before the symptoms appear, and extends to a few days after jaundice appears. Food handlers with hepatitis A should be excluded from food handling duties for one week after onset of jaundice, or, in the absence of jaundice, upon verification by a physician.
Does past infection with hepatitis A make a person immune?
Once an individual recovers from hepatitis A, he or she is immune for life and does not continue to carry the virus.
What is the treatment for hepatitis A?
There are no special medicines or antibiotics that can be used to treat the disease. Generally, bed rest and supportive care are needed.
How can hepatitis A be prevented?
The single most effective way to prevent spread is careful hand-washing after using the toilet. Also, infected people should not handle foods during the contagious period. A vaccine against hepatitis A is recommended for all children at one year of age followed by a second dose 6 months later. Household members or others in close contact with an infected person should call a doctor or the health department to determine if they need a shot of immune globulin which minimizes their chances of becoming ill or if they should be considered for vaccination.
Who should get the Hepatitis A vaccine?
Certain groups are at high risk and could benefit from hepatitis A immunization. These include military personnel, international travelers, certain populations that experience cyclic hepatitis A epidemics such as Native Americans, homosexuals, and users of illicit injectable drugs. Also, certain institutional workers, child care workers, and laboratory workers who handle live hepatitis A virus are at higher risk of exposure to hepatitis A. The Hepatitis A vaccine can be used alone or with immune globulin for immediate and long-term protection in the event of outbreaks.