Hepatitis A symptoms usually begin 2–4 weeks after you contract the virus. Symptoms may be mild or severe and can include fever, diarrhea, and jaundice. Children often don’t have any symptoms.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that primarily causes inflammation in your liver. It’s transmitted through contaminated food or water or through contact with a person who has the virus.

The symptoms of hepatitis A can mimic those of:

  • other types of hepatitis
  • other liver diseases
  • flu-like illness

One of the most common symptoms is jaundice, a yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes. Jaundice happens as a result of buildup of a substance called bilirubin.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of hepatitis A, including when they typically develop and how long they usually last.

According to the World Health Organization, hepatitis A symptoms usually develop 2–4 weeks after you contract the virus. In rare cases, symptoms might not develop for up to 50 days.

Adults are more likely than children to develop symptoms. About 70% of adults develop symptoms, while only about 10% of children under 6 years of age develop jaundice.

Early symptoms of hepatitis A can include:

Within 1 week of the start of those symptoms, you may also develop:

Symptoms can vary significantly in severity. They tend to be worse in older adults and people with underlying health conditions, particularly chronic liver disease. The severity of symptoms is strongly related to increasing age.

Symptoms usually go away after less than 2 months, but in some people they can last up to 6 months. Symptom severity usually peaks 7–10 days after the start of jaundice.

Increased levels of liver enzymes usually resolve within 1–6 weeks.

Patterns of infection

Hepatitis A tends to follow one of five patterns:

  • asymptomatic infection (no symptoms)
  • symptomatic infection with:
    • jaundice
    • dark urine
    • clay-colored stool
  • cholestatic hepatitis with:
    • long-term elevation of alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin levels
    • itchy skin
  • relapsing infection (symptoms go away and then come back)
  • fulminant hepatitis

Fulminant hepatitis is a severe liver condition that can be life threatening. It develops in less than 1% of adults with hepatitis A.

When to see a doctor

It’s important to seek medical attention if you develop jaundice or other symptoms of hepatitis A, especially if:

  • you’ve traveled to a region where hepatitis A is common
  • you’ve been in close contact with somebody who has hepatitis A
  • you have a blood clotting disorder
  • you’re male and you have sex with males
  • you’ve shared needles or injection equipment
  • you have a job that puts you at risk
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The prevalence of hepatitis A infection has declined significantly in the United States over the past 25 years. Most cases develop in high risk populations such as:

  • people who travel to developing countries
  • people in close contact with those who have hepatitis A
  • males who have sex with males
  • people staying in hospitals
  • people who inject illegal drugs
  • people with low socioeconomic status

Here’s how you can protect yourself and your children from hepatitis A:

  • Vaccinate children starting at 1 year of age.
  • Get the hepatitis A vaccine before traveling to a country where hepatitis A is common.
  • See a doctor immediately if you have a known exposure to the hepatitis A virus.

Additionally, you can take the following precautions if you travel to a country where hepatitis A is common:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soapy water.
  • Boil or cook food and water for at least a minute at 185°F (85°C).
  • Avoid fruit and vegetables that you don’t peel yourself.

Does hepatitis A go away on its own?

Hepatitis A doesn’t have any specific treatment and often goes away with supportive treatment. The hepatitis A virus replicates in your liver and is released into your intestines. Your body then excretes it through your feces.

What are the first warning signs of hepatitis A?

Early symptoms of hepatitis A can mimic those of a mild flu, including:

  • weight loss
  • vomiting and nausea
  • fatigue
  • malaise
  • fever

How long are people with hepatitis A contagious?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with hepatitis A can transmit the virus for 1–2 weeks before they have symptoms and for about 1 week after symptoms start.

Hepatitis A symptoms can range from mild to severe. Adults are more likely than children to develop symptoms, which can include jaundice, itchy skin, and flu-like symptoms.

It’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you think you may have hepatitis A. The symptoms will fully resolve for most people, but a small percentage of people develop severe disease that can be life threatening.