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What I need to know about Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease. Hepatitis (HEP-ah-TY-tis) makes your liver swell and stops it from working right.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it. What causes hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus.

A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis A is called the hepatitis A virus.

How could I get hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is spread by close personal contact with someone else who has the infection.

You could also get hepatitis A by:

  • eating food that has been prepared by someone with hepatitis A
  • drinking water that has been contaminated by hepatitis A (in parts of the world with poor hygiene and sanitary conditions)

Who can get hepatitis A?

Anyone can get hepatitis A. But some people are more likely to than others:

  • people who live with someone who has hepatitis A
  • children who go to day care
  • people who work in a day care center
  • men who have sex with men
  • people who travel to other countries where hepatitis A is common

What are the symptoms?

Hepatitis A can make you feel like you have the flu.

You might:

  • feel tired
  • feel sick to your stomach
  • have a fever
  • not want to eat
  • have stomach pain
  • have diarrhea

    Some people have:

    • dark yellow urine
    • light-colored stools
    • yellowish eyes and skin

    Some people don't have any symptoms.

    If you have symptoms, or think you might have hepatitis A, go to a doctor. The doctor will test your blood.

    How is hepatitis a treated?

    Most people who have hepatitis A get well on their own after a few weeks.

    You may need to rest in bed for several days or weeks, and you won't be able to drink alcohol until you are well. The doctor may give you medicine for your symptoms.

    How can I protect myself?

    You can get the hepatitis A vaccine. A vaccine is a drug that you take when you are healthy that keeps you from getting sick. Vaccines teach your body to attack certain viruses, like the hepatitis A virus.

    The hepatitis A vaccine is given through a shot. Children can get the vaccine after they turn 2 years old. Children aged 2 to 18 will need three shots. The shots are spread out over a year. Adults get two or three shots over 6 to 12 months.

    You need all of the shots to be protected. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.

    You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis A in these ways, too:

    • Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before fixing food or eating.
    • Wear gloves if you have to touch other people's stool. Wash your hands afterwards.
    • Drink bottled water when you are in another country. (And don't use ice cubes or wash fruits and vegetables in tap water.)

    For more information

    You can also get information about hepatitis A from these groups:

    American Liver Foundation
    75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
    New York, NY 10038
    Phone: 1-800-465-4837 (This is a free call.)
    Internet: www.liverfoundation.org

    Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI)
    504 Blick Drive
    Silver Spring, MD 20904-2901
    Phone: 1-800-891-0707 or (301) 622-4200
    Fax: (301) 622-4702
    Internet: www.hepfi.org

    There are other types of hepatitis. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse also has booklets about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

    You can get a free copy of each of these booklets by calling 1-800-891-5389 or (301) 654-3810, or by writing to
    2 Information Way
    Bethesda, MD 20892-3570

    Hepatitis information for health professionals is also available.

    The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.

    Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts.

    This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

    NIH Publication No. 02-4244
    December 2001