Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that targets the liver. It’s typically transmitted via contaminated food or water.

Hepatitis is a condition characterized by liver inflammation, often resulting from viral infections, excessive alcohol consumption, or other factors.

One specific type of viral hepatitis is hepatitis A, which is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and primarily transmitted through contaminated food or water.

While the implementation of vaccination programs and improvements in sanitation have led to a global decrease in hepatitis A cases, it remains a highly contagious virus capable of surviving on surfaces for months.

Consequently, millions of people worldwide still contract the virus annually, highlighting the importance of prevention and awareness about its contagious nature.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that specifically targets the liver. It’s caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which belongs to a family of viruses called picornaviruses. HAV is classified as an RNA virus due to its genetic material consisting of ribonucleic acid (RNA) instead of DNA.

Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, HAV infection does not lead to chronic liver disease and often resolves on its own without causing long-term damage.

In 2018, 12,474 hepatitis A cases were reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, since many people don’t seek medical attention, this number may be closer to 24,900.

Additionally, in countries or areas with poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water, hepatitis A rates tend to be higher.

Hepatitis A symptoms

The symptoms of hepatitis A may include:

  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • jaundice
  • flu-like symptoms
  • joint pain
  • itchy skin
  • clay-colored stools

Importantly, HAV is often asymptomatic. Among children under age 6 years, the majority (70%) of infections do not cause any noticeable symptoms. Among older children and adults, HAV infection typically leads to symptomatic illness, with more than 70% of individuals developing jaundice.

Yes, HAV is highly contagious, and both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals can transfer the virus.

HAV is primarily transmitted through the fecal-oral route, meaning it’s passed along when people come into contact with the feces of an individual who has an HAV infection or consume food or water contaminated with the virus.

For instance, HAV transmission can occur if a person with an infection does not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom and then handles food or objects that others subsequently eat or touch. It’s also transmitted quickly in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene.

How long is hepatitis A contagious?

Individuals with an HAV infection are generally able to transfer the virus to others for approximately 2 weeks before symptoms appear until about 1 week after the onset of jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) or other symptoms.

However, it’s important to note that hepatitis A can be contagious even in the absence of symptoms. For example, though most children under 6 years old who contract an HAV infection are asymptomatic, they can still transfer the virus to others.

How long can hepatitis A live outside the body?

HAV can survive on human hands for several hours and on indoor surfaces for several days.

HAV can also withstand freezing temperatures, persist in both fresh and saltwater for up to 12 months, and remain infectious for several days to weeks in dried feces. HAV is also highly resistant to various environmental conditions and physical and chemical agents.

Although freezing will not kill HAV-contaminated food or surfaces, exposing the substance to heat greater than 185°F (85°C) for at least a minute will.

HAV is primarily spread through the ingestion of food or water containing the feces of a person with the virus. Transmission can also occur through activities such as sexual contact, sharing personal items like toothbrushes or razors, or contact with open sores or wounds.

HAV can survive on surfaces for some time, and if a person with HAV touches surfaces or objects without proper hand hygiene, the virus can be transferred to those surfaces. If someone else touches these contaminated surfaces and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, they can contract the virus.

In regions with inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices, HAV can persist and spread more easily. Factors such as poor sewage management, contaminated water sources, and insufficient handwashing can contribute to its transmission.

Can hepatitis A be transmitted through saliva?

While HAV can be detected in saliva in the acute phase of the virus, the CDC reports that the transmission of HAV through saliva “has not been demonstrated.”

Risk factors for hepatitis A include:

  • living in an environment with poor sanitation
  • living in an environment where there’s a lack of safe water
  • living with a person who has received a confirmed HAV diagnosis
  • being a sexual partner of someone with acute HAV infection
  • traveling to areas with a high risk of outbreak without being immunized
  • engaging in sexual activities between men
  • using illegal drugs

Yes, hepatitis A is considered a self-limiting disease, which means that most individuals who acquire the virus will recover without specific treatment. Importantly, HAV vaccination is available and is highly effective in preventing HAV infection.

While there is no specific cure for HAV, supportive care and lifestyle measures can help manage the symptoms and aid in the recovery process.

Here are some key aspects of HAV treatment:

  • rest and adequate nutrition
  • symptom management (over-the-counter medications may be used to relieve symptoms such as fever, nausea, and pain)
  • regular medical checkups that can typically involve monitoring liver function tests

Does hepatitis A go away?

Hepatitis A commonly goes away on its own, and about 85% of people with the virus recover within 2 to 3 months. Additionally, some people develop a relapsing infection within the first 6 months, but most people recover without long-term issues.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver, causing inflammation. It’s highly contagious and can be transmitted through contaminated food, water, or close personal contact with an individual who has an HAV infection.

Vaccination is generally recommended as a preventive measure against hepatitis A, especially if you’re at higher risk of exposure or planning to travel to regions where the virus is more prevalent.