HepatitisÂ A is a liverÂ infection caused by a virus that's spread in the poo of an infected person.
It's uncommon in the UK,Â but certainÂ groups are at increased risk. This includes travellers to parts of the world with poor levels of sanitation, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs.
Hepatitis AÂ can be unpleasant, but it's notÂ usually serious andÂ most people make a full recovery within a couple of months.
Some people, particularly young children, may not have any symptoms.
ButÂ hepatitis AÂ can occasionally last for many months and, in rare cases, it canÂ be life threatening ifÂ it causesÂ the liver to stop working properly (liver failure).
AÂ hepatitis A vaccine is available for people at high risk of infection.
SymptomsÂ of hepatitis A
The symptoms of hepatitis A develop, on average, around 4 weeks after becoming infected, although not everyone will get them.
Symptoms can include:
- feelingÂ tiredÂ and generallyÂ unwell
- joint and muscle pain
- a raised temperature
- loss of appetite
- feeling or being sick
- pain in the upper right part of your tummy
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- dark pee and pale poo
- itchy skin
The symptoms will usually pass within a couple of months.
WhenÂ to get medical advice
See your GP for advice if:
- you have symptoms of hepatitis AÂ âÂ aÂ blood testÂ can usually confirm whether you have the infection
- you might have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus recently but you do not have any symptoms â treatment given early on may be able to stop the infection developing
- you think youÂ might need the hepatitis A vaccine â your GPÂ can advise you about whether you should have the vaccine
Although hepatitis A is not usually serious, it's important to see your GP so they can rule out more serious conditions with similar symptoms, such as hepatitis C or scarring of ther liverÂ (cirrhosis).
It may also be necessary to test your friends, family and any sexual partners in case you have spread the infection to them.
HowÂ you can get hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is most widespread in parts of the worldÂ where standards of sanitation and food hygiene are generally poor, such as parts of Africa, the Indian subcontinent,Â the Far East, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
You can get the infection from:
- eating foodÂ prepared by someone with the infection who has not washed their hands properly or washed them in water contaminated with sewage
- drinking contaminated water, including ice cubes
- eating raw or undercooked shellfishÂ fromÂ contaminated water
- close contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- less commonly, having sex with someone with hepatitis A (this is particularly a risk forÂ men who have sex with men) or injecting drugs using contaminated equipment
SomeoneÂ with hepatitis A is most infectious from around 2 weeks before symptoms appear until about a week after symptoms first develop.
VaccinationÂ againstÂ hepatitis A
Vaccination againstÂ hepatitis A is not routinely offered in the UK because the risk of infection is low for most people.
It's only recommended for people at an increased risk, including:
- close contacts of someone with hepatitis A
- peopleÂ planning to travel to or live in parts of the world where hepatitis A is widespread, particularly if sanitation and food hygiene are expected to be poor
- people withÂ any type of long-termÂ liver disease
- men who have sex with other men
- people who inject illegal drugs
- people who may be exposed to hepatitis A through their jobÂ â this includesÂ sewage workers, people who work for organisations where personal hygiene may be poor, such as a homeless shelter, and people working withÂ monkeys, apes and gorillas
The hepatitis AÂ vaccine is usually available for free on the NHS for anyone whoÂ needs it.
TreatmentsÂ for hepatitis A
There's currently no cure for hepatitis A. But it usually gets better on its own within a couple ofÂ months. You can usually look after yourself at home.
While you're ill, it's a good idea to:
- get plenty of restÂ
- take painkillers, such asÂ paracetamolÂ orÂ ibuprofen,Â for any aches and painsÂ âÂ ask your GP for advice about this, as you may need to take lower doses than normal or avoid certain medications until you have recovered
- maintain a cool, well-ventilated environment, wear loose clothing and avoidÂ hot baths or showers to reduce any itching
- eat small, light meals to help reduce nausea and vomiting
- avoid alcoholÂ to reduce the strain on your liver
- stay off work or school and avoid having sex until at least a week after yourÂ jaundice or other symptoms started
- practise good hygiene, such asÂ washing your hands with soap and water regularlyÂ
Speak to your GP if your symptoms are particularly troublesome or have not started to improve within a couple of months.
TheyÂ can prescribe medications to help with itchiness, nausea or vomiting, if necessary.
ForÂ most people, hepatitis A gets better within 2 months and there are no long-term effects.
Once it passes, you normally develop life-long immunity against the virus.
In aroundÂ 1 in everyÂ 7 people with the infection, the symptoms may come and go for up toÂ 6 months before eventually disappearing.
Life-threatening complications such as liver failure are rare, affecting less than 1 in every 250 people with hepatitis A.
People most at risk include the elderly and those with pre-existing liverÂ problems.
If you have hepatitis A and liver failure, you'll usually need aÂ liver transplant.