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What is Hepatitis A? Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is Hepatitis A? Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

You may have seen the ads on television warning you about the dangers of hepatitis A should you ever find yourself in a tropical country. After all, it’s a disease often associated with second and third world countries but is still a concern in industrialized nations like Canada.

What is hepatitis A?

But what exactly is hepatitis A or infectious hepatitis? Quite simply, it’s a form of viral hepatitis transmitted through food or through close contact with someone who already has the virus. This is why it is prevalent in countries where food safety regulations are somewhat lax.

How do you get hep A?

People usually get hep A by having close contact with a person who is infected, from food or drinks prepared by someone who is infected, or by eating shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water. After the virus enters the body, there is an incubation period lasting 2 to 7 weeks until illness begins.1

Signs and symptoms of infectious hepatitis

Following the incubation period, signs and symptoms may begin to appear. Often mistaken for the flu, they include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Liver pain
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain

Who is at Risk?

Anyone can get hepatitis A, but there are certain demographic groups with an increased risk of contraction, including the homeless, persons living or working in close proximity with a carrier, persons travelling to countries where hepatitis A is common, intravenous drug users, and those who eat raw food.

If you count yourself among one of the at-risk groups and are experiencing prolonged flu-like symptoms, consult a doctor immediately to get diagnosed and, if needed, discuss your treatment options.

There Are Treatments for Symptoms, But No Cure

There are no specific medicines to cure infection with hepatitis A. Most people require no treatment except to relieve symptoms. However, if symptoms become severe or dehydration develops, the person should seek medical care immediately.

There is a vaccine for hepatitis A. If you have been exposed to someone who is infected with HAV, a treatment called immune serum globulin is available and may prevent you from becoming infected. Immune serum globulin is more likely to be effective when given within 2 weeks of exposure.2

There are also things you can do help heal your body as the infection works its way through you:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid exercise
  • Avoid medicines with liver-damaging side effects, like acetaminophen
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Drink plenty of fluid

The Good News

There is some positive news when it comes to hepatitis A. You will feel awful, but it is not a lifelong illness. If your immune system is healthy, it will rid your body of the virus. It simply takes time. So, Netflix and heal!



  1. Hepatitis A: How do People get Hepatitis A?
  2. What is the treatment for Hepatitis A?

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