What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is spread through contact with people infected with the disease, their fluids or waste. It affects your liver and usually causes mild illness, but can sometimes be severe and result in liver failure. Adults are more likely to have severe symptoms than children.

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. If you’ve had hepatitis A before, you won’t get it again, but you can still get hepatitis B or C.

Symptoms

Some people who have hepatitis A have few or no symptoms, especially children under the age of 5.

In adolescents and adults, hepatitis A symptoms include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • pain in the stomach area
  • dark urine
  • jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).

Symptoms usually start about 2 to 4 weeks after catching hepatitis A.

Symptoms can last for several weeks. Most people with hepatitis A fully recover.

Who is at risk

People from, or visiting, developing countries that have less access to clean water or sanitation, are more at risk of getting hepatitis A. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have higher risk of infection.

Outbreaks of hepatitis A can also sometimes occur:

  • at childcare centres
  • in people who have eaten contaminated food
  • in people who inject drugs
  • in men who have sex with men.

Hepatitis A can affect people at any age.

How it spreads

Hepatitis A spreads when people come into direct contact with infected:

  • food
  • drink
  • faeces
  • people.

If you have hepatitis A, you can help stop the disease spreading by:

  • staying 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
  • washing your hands often
  • washing, preparing and cooking foods properly
  • not sharing towels or eating or drinking utensils with others.

Practicing safe sex also helps prevent infection in other people.

Prevention

Hepatitis A vaccines protect you from getting infected and prevent serious disease. Your doctor may suggest you be vaccinated if you're planning to visit a region with where hepatitis A is common.

Find out more about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose hepatitis A by:

  • checking your symptoms
  • asking if you have been in contact with someone who has hepatitis A
  • asking if you have recently travelled to a country where hepatitis A is more common
  • performing a blood test.

If you have hepatitis A your doctor may be required to notify your state or territory health department.

Treatment

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.

Contacts

National Immunisation Hotline
Hand Hygiene Australia

Last updated: 
6 November 2018