What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The disease is usually mild in children, but can be more serious in adults. Infected children under 6 years of age do not usually experience noticeable symptoms, and only 10% develop jaundice.
Some people are at higher risk of getting hepatitis A infection, for example:
- travellers to countries with high infection rates
- men who have sex with men
- people who use illicit drugs
- residents in some Indigenous communities
- residents of certain institutions such as correctional facilities and facilities for developmentally challenged individuals
Hepatitis A is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
Symptoms can include:
- aches and pains
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- skin rash
- yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
The severity of hepatitis A infection can range from a mild illness lasting 1 to 2 weeks to a very serious disease lasting several months.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A is found in the feces of infected people. It is spread from person to person through unwashed hands. It is also spread by eating food and drinking water or other liquids that have been contaminated with the hepatitis A virus. In developing countries, poor sewage treatment can lead to contaminated food and water. Food can also be contaminated if it has been handled by a food handler infected with hepatitis A who has not properly washed his or her hands.
How long does hepatitis A virus survive outside the body?
The hepatitis A virus is extremely hardy. It is able to survive the body’s highly acidic digestive tract and can live outside the body for months. High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185°F (85°C), kills the virus, although freezing temperatures do not. (Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm)
How is hepatitis A treated?
There is no specific treatment for the virus. Supportive care can help relieve symptoms. Most people infected with hepatitis A get better on their own. People with severe infection are hospitalized.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.