Is Hepatitis A Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Hepatitis Pictures Slideshow: What Puts You at Risk

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a type of liver infection caused by a virus termed hepatitis A (HAV). For clarity, the disease will be termed hepatitis A while the viral cause will be termed HAV. Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not cause chronic disease in contrast to some other viral causes of hepatitis. Antibodies produced during infection give life-long protection against the disease; there is an effective vaccine against HAV. Rarely, hepatitis may lead to liver failure and death.

Is hepatitis A contagious?

Hepatitis A is very contagious. People can be contagious even before symptoms appear. However, the numbers of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis A has been decreasing since the vaccine against HAV was introduced in 1995. The vaccine is effective in adults and children.

How will I know if I have hepatitis A?

Symptoms, if they occur, start about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to HAV. About 80% of adults have symptoms (see below) while children seldom show symptoms. Symptoms of hepatitis A may include the following:

Symptoms develop over a few days and in mild infections, last about 4 to 6 weeks with more severe infections lasting about 6 months. Your physician can diagnose hepatitis A by your history, physical exam, and blood tests.

Quick GuideHepatitis in Pictures: What Puts You at Risk?

Hepatitis in Pictures: What Puts You at Risk?

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A spreads person to person, and by indirect spread. Fecal - oral, sexual contact, and contaminated food or water can be sources of HAV that causes the disease. Common sources that have HAV contamination are

  • fruits,
  • vegetables,
  • ice, and
  • untreated water.

HAV viruses can live outside the human body for months in the environment.

How will I know if I am cured of hepatitis A?

In general, once symptoms of hepatitis A begin to abate, individuals are considered to be non-contagious; resolution of the infection results in a cure and life-long immunity to the disease. Appropriate vaccination (usually 2 shots 6 months apart), can also give long-term immunity to the disease.

When should I contact a doctor about hepatitis A?

If you have recently been exposed to a source of HAV and are unsure if you are vaccinated, contact your health-care professional, as it is possible to get vaccine or even immunoglobulin treatment to prevent the disease and/or its symptoms.

If you have the disease, contact your health-care professional for symptomatic treatment methods (for example, diet changes, avoiding alcohol, certain drugs) to help prevent HAV spread to family and friends. Some individuals have more severe symptoms and may need to be hospitalized.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCE:

"Hepatitis A information." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aug 27, 2015.

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Reviewed on 11/7/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCE:

"Hepatitis A information." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aug 27, 2015.

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