What Is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver disease.
Hepatitis (HEP-ah-TY-tis) makes your liver swell and stops it from working right.
You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it.
What Causes Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus.
A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis A is called the hepatitis A virus.
How Could I Get Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A spreads by touching stool from a bowel movement. You could get hepatitis A by:
- Touching an infected person's stool (for example, when changing an infected baby's diaper), and then eating or drinking with your hands.
- Eating food made by someone who touched infected stool.
- Drinking water made dirty by infected stool (this is a problem in developing countries).
- Having anal sex with an infected person.
Who Can Get Hepatitis A?
Anyone can get hepatitis A. But some people are more likely to than others:
- People who live with someone who has hepatitis A.
- Children who go to day care.
- People who work in a day care center.
- Men who have sex with men.
- People who travel to other countries.
What Are the Symptoms?
Hepatitis A can make you feel like you have the flu. You might:
- Feel tired.
- Feel sick to your stomach.
- Have a fever.
- Not want to eat.
- Have stomach pain.
- Have diarrhea.
Some people have:
- Dark yellow urine.
- Light-colored stools.
- Yellowish eyes and skin.
Some people don't have any symptoms. If you have symptoms, or think you might have hepatitis A, go to a doctor. The doctor will test your blood.
How Is Hepatitis A Treated?
Most people who have hepatitis A get well on their own after a few weeks.
You may need to rest in bed for several days or weeks, and you won't be able to drink alcohol until you are well. The doctor may give you medicine for your symptoms.
How Can I Protect Myself?
You can get the hepatitis A vaccine.
A vaccine is a drug that you take when you are healthy that keeps you from getting sick. Vaccines teach your body to attack certain viruses, like the hepatitis A virus.
The hepatitis A vaccine is given through a shot. Children can get the vaccine after they turn 2 years old. Children aged 2 to 18 will need three shots. The shots are spread out over a year. Adults get two shots over 6 to 12 months.
You need all of the shots to be protected. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis A in these ways, too:
- Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before fixing food or eating.
- Wear gloves if you have to touch other people's stool. Wash your hands afterwards.
- Drink bottled water when you are in another country. (And don't use ice cubes or wash fruits and vegetables in tap water.)
Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health