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Hepatitis A (cont.)

Hepatitis A Contagious Transmission

The hepatitis A virus is found predominantly in the stools (feces) of people with hepatitis A. HAV is transmitted when a person puts something in his or her mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of an affected person. This is referred to as fecal-oral transmission. However, variations of this primary way in which a contagious person transmits the disease are as follows:

  • Food or drinking water contaminated with stool from an infected person (usually because of inadequate hand washing or poor sanitary conditions), the virus can quickly spread to anyone who drinks or swallows the contaminated food or water.
  • Eating raw or undercooked shellfish collected from water that has been contaminated by sewage
  • Blood transfusions, although this is extremely rare
  • Sexual contact, especially oral/anal

People who are infected can start spreading the infection (shedding virus) about 1 week after their own exposure. People who do not have symptoms can still spread the virus. Infection with HAV is known to occur throughout the world.

  • The risk of infection is greatest in developing countries with poor sanitation or poor personal hygiene standards.
  • Infection rates are also higher in areas where direct fecal-oral transmission is likely to occur, such as daycare centers, prisons, and mental institutions.

People at increased risk for hepatitis A infection include:

  • Household contacts of people infected with HAV
  • Sexual partners of people infected with HAV
  • International travelers, especially to developing countries
  • Military personnel stationed abroad, especially in developing countries
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • People who use illegal drugs (injected or non-injected)
  • People who may come into close contact with HAV infected people at work

Individuals who work in professions such as health care, food preparation, and sewage and waste water management are not at greater risk of infection than the general public.

People who live or work in close quarters, such as dormitories, prisons, and residential facilities; or work in or attend daycare facilities are at increased risk only if strict personal hygiene measures are not observed.

Hepatitis does not occur simply from being near someone who has the disease at work or at school.

When to Seek Medical Care for Hepatitis A

A health care practitioner should be contacted if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Nausea and vomiting that does not improve within 1-2 days
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Dark colored urine
  • Pain in the belly (abdomen)

The following situations also warrant a call to the health care practitioner:

  • A person has symptoms and thinks that they might have been exposed to someone with hepatitis.
  • A person has other medical problems and thinks that they might have hepatitis.
  • A person who has had close contact with someone diagnosed with hepatitis.

If an individual cannot reach their primary health care practitioner and have any of the following symptoms they should go to an Emergency Department or an urgent care facility.

  • Vomiting and inability to keep down any liquids
  • Severe pain or high fever
  • Confusion, delirium, or difficulty awakening
Last Reviewed 11/21/2017

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