Hepatitis A typically quickly resolves on its own without treatment. Very rarely, the viral condition may cause serious complications such as liver disease or liver failure, especially in older or individuals with a weakened immune system.

Hepatitis A (hep A) is a highly contagious liver infection that’s easily preventable with the hepatitis A vaccine. Practicing good hygiene and following food safety protocols can also help reduce its transmission.

Here’s what else to know about the virus, including how long it lasts and what to expect during recovery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, hepatitis A is typically a short-term viral infection. Though it’s typically a mild illness that lasts just a few weeks, it may escalate to a more serious one lasting several months in those with a weakened immune system.

Most people recover from hep A without treatment and without any lasting complications.

Rarely, it may lead to liver failure, especially in those over 50 years old or those who already have another liver disease.

Per the CDC, out of an estimated 20,000 hep A infections in the United States in 2020, there were about 179 deaths due to the condition. In the rare instance that hep A were to cause liver failure, an emergency liver transplant may be an option.

After the viral infection resolves, most people have long-term immunity to hep A. There’s also typically a very low risk that symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, or nausea will return.

Did you know?

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) reports that after the introduction of the hep A vaccine in the United States in 1995, the rate of infections dropped by 95%.

Even after up to 2 weeks of exposure to the virus, the vaccine has still been found to be effective. It’s also highly recommended to prevent more serious complications or passing the virus to others.

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Hepatitis A typically doesn’t require specific treatment. Most of the time, it resolves on its own without any medical intervention.

However, to speed up recovery and reduce symptoms, supportive care is recommended, including:

  • getting lots of rest
  • consuming plenty of fluids
  • eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet

That said, the CDC recommends that those who have not received the hep A vaccine and who are exposed to the virus take postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 2 weeks of exposure, especially before traveling. PEP is a treatment regimen for the virus that includes:

  • for those between ages 1-40, getting the hep A vaccine, which is still effective even postexposure
  • for infants younger than 12 months, those over 40 years old, or people with a weakened immune system, receiving hep A virus-specific immunoglobulin (if unavailable, a vaccine may sometimes be substituted reasonably safely)

Those with severe symptoms may also require hospitalization or more serious medical care.

If you cannot recall if you’ve been vaccinated for hep A and do not have your immunization records, it’s still considered safe to get another dose. So far, there’s no evidence that an additional hep A vaccine is harmful.

According to the NIDDK, someone who has contracted the virus can transmit it for up to 3 weeks after symptoms appear. It’s also possible to transfer the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms even onset — this is also the time when you’re at the highest risk of transmitting the virus.

Hepatitis A is highly contagious and can be passed to others through contaminated food or water, by close physical or sexual contact with a person who has the viral infection, or by using injected drugs. However, the primary way that the viral infection is transmitted is by fecal (stool)-oral contact.

Some people, especially children, never develop symptoms and may still unknowingly pass on the virus.

Most people with hepatitis A begin to recover within a few weeks to a couple of months after symptom onset. Symptoms during this time may include:

  • fatigue
  • jaundice
  • nausea
  • stomach pain

The NIDDK recommends visiting your doctor before you take any medication, vitamins, or supplements since they may be damaging to the liver. Due to the risk of liver compilations, it’s also strongly discouraged to drink alcohol during recovery.

Visiting your doctor for regular check-ups until your blood test reveals that the infection has been cleared is recommended. If your symptoms persist for more than 6 months, it’s important that you see a doctor.

Washing your hands regularly and practicing excellent hygiene are strongly recommended during this time to help prevent transmitting the infection to others.

Getting the hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended.

If you’re pregnant and have hep A, it’s even more important that you always attend your regularly scheduled doctor’s visits as well as any additional visits your healthcare team may schedule specifically for hep A monitoring.

Most people with hepatitis A typically get better within a few weeks, and the condition very rarely leads to lasting liver damage or other serious complications.

Keep in mind that hepatitis A is highly contagious and can be passed in even microscopic amounts through bodily fluids or by consuming contaminated food or water. It can also live on surfaces or objects for several weeks. If you have hepatitis A, protect yourself and others by always practicing good hygiene.

If you contract the viral infection and your symptoms persist for more than 6 months, it’s important that you talk with a doctor.

After hep A resolves, most people develop long-term immunity.