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Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. In hepatitis A this inflammation is caused by the hepatitis A virus, often written as HAV.

Infection with hepatitis A is a form of food poisoning. Risk foods include shellfish such as prawns, cockles, mussels and oysters, which carry a much higher risk as they are eaten raw.

Once infection is established, the virus is carried in the digestive system and excreted in the stools. If there is then poor hand washing in infected individuals the virus can be passed on to other individuals.

Symptoms may appear any time between 3 and 5 weeks after the initial contact with the virus, with the most likely time for the virus to be passed to other people ten days before the symptoms appear to two days afterwards.

Hepatitis may occur with or without symptoms, but it’s important to know that even when there are no symptoms the individual is still infectious.

There are two phases of hepatitis A:

Pre-icteric phase – symptoms which appear before jaundice

  • Anorexia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Malaise
  • Tiredness
  • Sometimes intermittent abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Headache – particularly in older children
  • Loose stool in infants

Icteric phase – symptoms which appear with jaundice

These are all very general symptoms, similar to a flu-like illness:

  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine
  • Whites of the eyes become yellow
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal tenderness due to an inflamed liver
  • Pruritus (itching)

How is a diagnosis of hepatitis A made?

Diagnosis is made by blood tests, sometimes referred to as serology.

Treatment options for hepatitis A:

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Most people are adequately cared for at home. Seek medical advice before taking over the counter medicines.

Want to know more?

Download CLDF's leaflet on hepatitis A.

You can also order a copy of the leaflet here.

The information on this site is for guidance only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other health care professional. ALWAYS check with your medical team if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment. CLDF is not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any form of damages resulting from the use (or misuse) of information contained in or implied by the information on this site.