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.

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