Hepatitis A is a liver disease that’s caused by a virus. It can be spread through contaminated food or water, or through close contact with a person who’s infected (including certain types of sexual contact). Although hepatitis A used to be uncommon in the US, case numbers have been rising in recent years.
How do you know whether you have hepatitis A? If it turns out that you have it, can hepatitis A be cured? Can you get rid of hepatitis A?
How is hepatitis A diagnosed?
To diagnose hepatitis A, a blood test is needed. This blood test will usually be ordered by a healthcare professional if you show signs and symptoms that could indicate hepatitis A.
This test looks for specific antibodies against the hepatitis A virus. The body makes a particular type of antibodies, known as IgM, when you’re actively infected with the virus. If you have these antibodies, and are showing signs of the virus, then you’ll be diagnosed with hepatitis A.
How to cure hepatitis A
There is no cure for hepatitis A. In fact, there’s no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection. We don’t currently have antiviral medications that target this particular virus.
However, the body usually clears the hepatitis A virus on its own over time. Fortunately, this means that hepatitis A treatment is usually not necessary. For this type of hepatitis, treatment that helps to support you while you recover is generally all that’s necessary. This includes:
Taking time to rest and recover.
Getting plenty of fluids. In some cases, if you become severely dehydrated, you may need to seek urgent healthcare to be given fluids through an IV.
Making sure that you’re eating enough, so that your body has the energy necessary to heal. This can be a challenge when you feel nauseated, but it’s important to find ways to get enough calories and protein.
Avoid alcohol and medications that may damage the liver. Certain over-the-counter medications, including common painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can cause liver damage, and should generally be avoided while you’re recovering from hepatitis. Ask your doctor about any prescription medications that you take, to see whether they’re safe to continue during your recovery.
In most cases, treatment for hepatitis can be accomplished at home. In some cases, such as if you become severely dehydrated, you may need to be treated at an urgent care center or hospital.
How to test for hepatitis A
A blood test can check to see whether you’re infected with the hepatitis A virus. This test looks for specific types of antibodies against the virus, which your body forms when you’re actively infected. This may be called a hepatitis A antibody test, or a hepatitis A IgM test. If this test is positive, then it’s an indication that you currently have hepatitis A, or that you’ve recently gotten over the infection.
You may also want to check to see whether you’re immune to hepatitis A. This may be useful if you’re unsure whether you’ve been vaccinated in the past, or if you want to check and make sure that the vaccine worked. This lets you know whether you’re protected against the hepatitis A virus. This may be known as a hepatitis A immunity test, or a hepatitis A IgG test. If this test is positive, then it’s an indication that you’re immune to the hepatitis A virus.
If you’d like to get one or both of these tests, then you have a few options. You can visit your doctor and ask them to order the test. You will then need to visit a lab to have blood drawn.
If you prefer to skip the doctor visit, then it’s possible to order the test yourself online. You will still need to visit a lab for the blood draw. For testing for other hepatitis viruses (including hepatitis B and hepatitis C), another option is a home test. This allows you to avoid a trip to the lab by taking your own blood sample using a fingerprick, and sending this to the lab for testing. However, there aren’t currently hepatitis A home testing kits available. If you want to test for hepatitis A or find out whether you’re immune to the virus, then you’ll most likely need to visit a lab for your blood draw, although you can still order the test yourself if you’d like.
How to prevent hepatitis A
There is a vaccine for the hepatitis A virus. This vaccine has become a standard part of the immunization protocol for children in the US. Kids usually receive their first dose between one and two years of age, and their second dose about six months later. The vaccine is generally recommended for people up to age 18 who haven't been previously vaccinated.
For adults who haven’t had the hepatitis A vaccine previously, they can get it if they would like to be protected from this virus. It’s more strongly recommended for people in higher risk groups, including those who:
Work in a higher-risk occupation, such as healthcare
Are planning to travel internationally
Use injection drugs
Are currently experiencing homelessness
Are men who have sex with other men
Have close contact with someone who is at higher risk
If you had the hepatitis A vaccine years ago, and you get it again now, it won’t hurt you. Some people aren’t sure whether they’ve had the vaccine, and they choose to go ahead and get it just in case. Others who aren’t sure choose to get a blood test to show whether they’re immune to the virus. This way, they will only get the vaccine if they’re sure that it’s necessary. If you’re not certain whether you’ve had the hepatitis A vaccine in the past, it’s really up to you whether you’d like to just get the vaccine, or get a blood test first to determine whether or not you need the vaccine.
Hepatitis A. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459290/. Accessed 20 Mar 2023.
Hepatitis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554549/. Accessed 20 Mar 2023.
Hepatitis A. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm. Accessed 20 Mar 2023.
Hepatitis A. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-a. Accessed 20 Mar 2023.