Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect your liver’s ability to function.
You’re most likely to get hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment. Most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage.
Hepatitis A signs and symptoms typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks. But not everyone with hepatitis A develops them. If you do, hepatitis signs and symptoms can include:
- Sudden nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially on the upper right side beneath your lower ribs (by your liver)
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis A Causes
You can catch the disease by drinking water or eating food that’s been contaminated by someone with the virus. You can also get hepatitis A if you:
- Eat fruits, vegetables, or other foods handled or prepared by a person who has the virus
- Eat raw shellfish harvested from water where the virus lives
- Swallow contaminated ice
- Have sex with someone who has it
- Touch your mouth after touching a contaminated object
Hepatitis A Diagnosis
Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms and check for high levels of liver enzymes in your blood. Then, they’ll do more blood tests to look for:
- IgM (immunoglobulin M) antibodies. Your body makes these when you’re first exposed to hepatitis A. They stay in your blood for about 3 to 6 months.
- IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies. These show up after the virus has been in your body for a while. You may have them all your life. They protect you against hepatitis A. If you test positive for them but not for IgM antibodies, it means you had a hepatitis A infection in the past or had vaccinations to protect against it.
Hepatitis A Treatment
No medication can get rid of the hepatitis A virus once you have it. Your doctor will treat your symptoms — they may call this supportive care — until it goes away. They’ll also do tests that check how well your liver is working to be sure your body is healing like it should.
You can take these steps to make yourself more comfortable:
- Get some rest. You’ll probably feel tired and sick and have less energy than usual.
- Try to keep food down. The nausea that sometimes comes with hepatitis A can make it tough to eat. It may be easier to snack during the day than to eat full meals. To make sure you get enough nutrients, go for more high-calorie foods and drink fruit juice or milk instead of water. Fluids will also help keep you hydrated if you’re throwing up.
- Avoid alcohol. It’s harder for your liver to handle medications and alcohol when you have the virus. Plus, drinking can lead to more liver damage. Tell your doctor about any medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs, as these might also hurt your liver.