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Hepatitis A - Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.


Hepatitis A is a type of liver disease that’s caused by a virus. Although this disease was uncommon in the US for decades, cases have been increasing in recent years. What are the signs of hepatitis A? Are you at risk for this virus?

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by a number of different factors, including viruses, alcohol, or even a person’s own immune system. Whatever the cause, the symptoms of hepatitis are generally similar, and may include:

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dark urine

  • Pale or clay-colored stool

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

  • Joint pain

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The hepatitis A abdominal pain location is often on the upper right side of the abdomen, where the liver is located. However, abdominal pain can sometimes be difficult to localize and may feel more general.

Hepatitis symptoms in men and hepatitis symptoms in women are generally similar. 

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a type of viral hepatitis, caused by an infection. People sometimes wonder, “Is hepatitis A a virus or bacteria?” The answer is that it’s a virus. The difference is that bacteria are very small cells that can live on their own, while viruses require a host to survive. Like other viruses, the hepatitis A virus can’t live and reproduce on its own without human cells. 

However, the virus doesn’t immediately fall apart when it’s outside the human body. It can remain on surfaces for a period of time, and may still be contagious when ingested. Heating food or beverages to 185°F (85°C) for at least one minute will destroy the virus, although it’s important to ensure that food is not contaminated after cooking.

With hepatitis A, hepatitis early symptoms may not be obvious, because people can be contagious for up to two weeks before symptoms develop. In fact, some people never develop symptoms at all from hepatitis A infection. In those who do develop symptoms, these generally come on abruptly. Symptoms generally start between 2 and 7 weeks after exposure to the virus, and can last for up to a few months.

What is hepatitis A caused by?

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus known as the hepatitis A virus, or HAV. This is a highly contagious virus. While hepatitis B and C viruses can be spread through sexual contact or contact with infected blood, hepatitis A spreads in a different way.

A blood test for the virus is used for diagnosing hepatitis A.

Where does hepatitis A virus come from?

The virus is spread from person to person. The virus is present in an infected person’s fecal matter (poop), and from there, it can spread to other people. This most commonly occurs through ingesting food or beverages that are contaminated with the virus, but can also occur through having close personal contact with someone who has the virus. For example, the virus can spread between people who live together, or during oral-anal sex. In general, casual contact is not enough to spread the virus. 

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Who is at risk for hepatitis A?

Anyone can potentially get hepatitis A, but there are certain groups who are at higher risk for contracting the virus. These include:

  • People traveling internationally, to a location where hepatitis A is more common

  • People who have close contact with someone who has recently spent time in such a location (for example, those adopting a child from another country)

  • People who work in a healthcare setting

  • People experiencing homelessness

  • Men who have sex with other men

  • People who use injection drugs

People who have these risk factors of hepatitis A may want to consider getting the vaccine as adults, if they didn’t get it as children. 

In addition, people with other types of liver disease or who have HIV are more likely to experience severe complications of the virus if they do get it. Although these conditions don’t necessarily raise your risk of contracting the hepatitis A virus, they do raise your risk of suffering from severe complications if you get the virus.

How do you get hepatitis A?

You get hepatitis A from ingesting the hepatitis A virus. This can occur through ingesting food or beverages that are contaminated with the virus. Sources of hepatitis A may be food or beverages that were not cooked or heated thoroughly, or those that were contaminated after cooking by virus on an infected person’s hands. Transmission can also occur through close personal contact, including living with someone or having oral-anal sex.

Cases of hepatitis A are relatively rare in the US, because there’s a vaccine available that can prevent the virus. However, cases have been increasing since about 2016. The increase has primarily occurred through person-to-person spread.

Is hepatitis A curable?

There is no treatment that specifically targets the hepatitis A virus. However, most people who get hepatitis A will recover on their own. Although they may feel very sick for a period of time, the liver will usually recover its function within a few weeks to months. 

Some people do get very sick from hepatitis A. Although there’s no specific treatment that can get rid of the virus, there are supportive medical treatments that can be helpful as you recover.


Hepatitis A. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm. Accessed 14 Mar 2023.

Hepatitis A. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-a. Accessed 14 Mar 2023.

Hepatitis A. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459290/. Accessed 14 Mar 2023.

Hepatitis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554549/. Accessed 14 Mar 2023.

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Mar 19, 2023

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