Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus that's spread in the poo of an infected person. It's uncommon, but certain groups are at increased risk. It’s not usually serious and most people make a full recovery. See your GP if you have the symptoms of hepatitis A.

Symptoms of hepatitis A

The symptoms of hepatitis A develop around four weeks after you become infected. However, not everyone will experience them.

Symptoms can include:

Symptoms will usually pass within a couple of months.

When to get medical advice

See your GP for advice if:

  • you have symptoms of hepatitis A – a blood test can usually confirm if you have the infection
  • you might have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus recently but don't have any symptoms
  • you think you might need the hepatitis A vaccine – your GP can advise on whether you should have the vaccine

Hepatitis A isn't usually serious. However, it's important to get a proper diagnosis to rule out more serious conditions with similar symptoms, such as:

Your friends, family and any sexual partners may also need tested in case you've spread the infection to them.

How hepatitis A is spread

Hepatitis A is most widespread in parts of the world where standards of sanitation and food hygiene are generally poor, such as:

  • parts of Africa
  • the Indian subcontinent
  • the Middle East
  • Central and South America

You can get the infection from:

  • eating food prepared by someone with the infection who hasn't washed their hands properly or washed them in water contaminated with sewage
  • drinking contaminated water (including ice cubes)
  • eating raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated water
  • close contact with someone who has hepatitis A

Less common ways of becoming infected include:

  • having sex with someone who has the infection (this is a particular risk for men who have sex with men)
  • injecting drugs using contaminated equipment

Someone with hepatitis A is most infectious from around two weeks before their symptoms appear until about a week after the symptoms first develop.

Treatments for hepatitis A

There's currently no cure for hepatitis A, but it will normally pass on its own within a couple of months. You can usually look after yourself at home.

While you're ill, it's a good idea to:

  • get plenty of rest 
  • take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for any aches and pains – ask your GP for advice about this
  • other symptoms such as nausea and itch can also be treated if necessary - speak to your GP
  • maintain a cool, well-ventilated environment, wear loose clothing, and avoid hot baths or showers to reduce any itching
  • eat smaller meals to help reduce nausea and vomiting
  • avoid alcohol to reduce the strain on your liver
  • stay off work or school and avoid having sex until at least a week after your jaundice or other symptoms started
  • practise good hygiene, such as washing your hands with soap and water regularly 

Speak to your GP if your symptoms are severe or haven't started to improve within a couple of months. They can prescribe medications to help with itchiness, nausea or vomiting, if necessary.

Vaccination against hepatitis A

Vaccination against hepatitis A isn't 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
  • people planning to travel to places where hepatitis A is widespread, particularly if sanitation and food hygiene are poor
  • people with any type of long-term liver disease
  • men who have sex with other men
  • people who inject illegal drugs

People who may be exposed to hepatitis A through their job including: 

  • sewage workers
  • staff of institutions where personal hygiene levels may be poor (such as a homeless shelter)
  • people working with monkeys, apes and gorillas

The hepatitis A vaccine is usually available for free on the NHS for anyone who needs it.

Outlook for hepatitis A

For most people, hepatitis A will pass within two months with no long-term effects. Once it passes, you normally develop life-long immunity.

For some people with the infection, the symptoms may come and go for up to 6 months before eventually passing. Life-threatening complications such as liver failure are rare with hepatitis A.

People most at risk include:

  • those with pre-existing liver problems
  • elderly people

If liver failure does occur, a transplant is usually needed to treat it.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published February 2018

This page is due for review August 2019

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