What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a disease caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A affects your liver. It usually causes mild illness, but can sometimes cause severe illness including liver failure. Adults are more likely to have severe symptoms than children.
Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, hepatitis A does not lead to chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis A, B and C are all different diseases, so they have different symptoms and different treatments. The hepatitis A vaccine does not protect you from hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Some people who have hepatitis A have few or no symptoms, especially children under the age of five.
In adolescents and adults, hepatitis A symptoms can include:
- pain in the stomach area
- dark urine
- jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
Symptoms usually start about four weeks after catching hepatitis A, but this can be as early as two weeks.
Symptoms can last for several weeks. Most people with hepatitis A fully recover.
Who is at risk from hepatitis A?
Outbreaks of hepatitis A can sometimes occur:
- at childcare centres
- in people who have eaten contaminated food
- in people who inject drugs
- in men who have sex with men.
The risk of infection is higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It is also more common in developing countries that have less access to clean water or sanitation.
People who already have liver disease are at greater risk of serious illness from hepatitis A.
How do you get hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A can spread when people come into direct contact with infected food, drink or faeces, or with other infected people.
How do you prevent hepatitis A?
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect against hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A vaccines protect you from getting infected and prevent serious disease. For more information on hepatitis A immunisation, see Hepatitis A immunisation service.
If you have hepatitis A, stay away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread the infection. Your doctor will tell you when you are no longer infectious.
Don’t share towels or eating or drinking utensils with other people if you, or they, have hepatitis A.
It is important to help stop the spread of infection by:
- practising good hand hygiene
- washing, preparing and cooking foods properly.
This is especially important if you are visiting a country where hepatitis A is more common.
People who have been exposed to hepatitis A can often prevent infection by getting the vaccine, or by getting antibodies that can protect them.
If you have had hepatitis A before, you won’t get it again. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t get hepatitis B or C.
How do you know if you have hepatitis A?
If you think you or one of your family members has hepatitis A, see your doctor.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and whether you have been in contact with someone who has hepatitis A. They will also ask if you have recently travelled to a country where hepatitis A is more common. If your doctor thinks you may have hepatitis A, they can do a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.
How do you get treated for hepatitis A?
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. You can relieve symptoms by:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- avoiding alcohol, and medicines that affect your liver (your doctor can tell you which medicines to avoid).
Some people will need treatment in hospital.
- The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance has resources for consumers.
- See the Australian Immunisation Handbook for technical details.
- Hand Hygiene Australia has resources for providers and consumers.
If you need advice or more information about immunisation, go to our Immunisation contacts page.