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:
- feeling tired and generally unwell
- joint and muscle pain
- a high temperature (fever)
- loss of appetite
- feeling or being sick
- pain in the upper-right part of your tummy
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- dark urine and pale stools
- itchy skin
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.