5 things you need to know about Hepatitis A


For more than a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been monitoring a growing hepatitis A outbreak in the United States. There have been more than 2,500 cases in California, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and several other states. The hepatitis A outbreak is especially impacting people who use drugs and the homeless. 

With increasing news coverage of the outbreak, questions remain about this viral condition that affects the liver. Here are answers to five common hepatitis A questions:

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral infection affecting the liver that lasts for several weeks to several months. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice. It typically doesn’t cause lasting liver damage, but more serious complications are possible in the elderly and people with other liver conditions. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure or death. 

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is spread when people consume food or drinks contaminated by small amounts of fecal matter from an infected person. Contamination can happen at any time during the cultivation and harvesting of crops, the processing and preparation of food, and even after cooking. Hepatitis A can also spread through close contact with an infected person and may be sexually transmitted.

Who is at risk of getting hepatitis A?

Anyone can get hepatitis A. High risk populations include people who use drugs, people who are in contact with someone with hepatitis A, men who have sex with men, the homeless and people who travel to counties where hepatitis A is common.

How do you treat hepatitis A?

Treatment for hepatitis A is mostly supportive care – rest, fluids and proper nutrition. If you know you were exposed to hepatitis A and haven’t been vaccinated, you should get the vaccine or an immune globulin injection to help prevent severe illness.

How can I protect myself from getting hepatitis A?

The hepatitis A vaccine is very effective and the best way to prevent the infection. Good hand hygiene after bathroom use and while preparing food is helpful in reducing the spread of infection. Once you are infected with hepatitis A, your body produces antibodies that protect you from becoming re-infected.

Shandra Day is an infectious disease physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


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