Is Hepatitis A Contagious?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that people get from an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It can range from a mild illness lasting 2 to 3 weeks, to several months of severe illness. The HAV is one of the types of hepatitis viruses that affect the liver's ability to function normally. Luckily, this disease would not result in chronic disease and it seldom causes severe consequences such as liver failure or death. Both adults and children can be infected with HAV, but children are the primary victims.

Is Hepatitis A Contagious?

HAV is extremely contagious, and often will become epidemics with outbreaks linked to consuming contaminated food in restaurants. Although it's true that food-service-workers can start a widespread epidemic, they themselves may have no symptoms, and don't even know they have it. However, many other types of food can also be infected by sewage containing HAV, and common carriers such as clams and oysters are good examples.

How Is Hepatitis A Spread?

People who are infected with HAV can spread the virus to others for 3 weeks or longer, whether or not they are showing symptoms of illness. Unfortunately, even a tiny amount of HAV can be transferred from a surface.

Through Person to Person Contact

  • When an infected person has sex or sexual contact with another person.
  • When an infected person doesn't practice proper hygiene by washing their hands properly after visits to the bathroom and touching other objects or food.
  • When a caregiver or parent doesn't practice proper hygiene by washing their hands properly after cleaning up the stool of an infected person, or changing diapers.

Through Contaminated Food or Water

Hepatitis A may be spread by eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated with the virus, including undercooked or frozen food. Although this is more likely to occur in countries where HAV is common, and in areas where there are poor personal hygiene, or poor sanitary conditions. Is hepatitis A contagious with certain foods? Yes, the items most likely to be contaminated are vegetables, fruits, shellfish, water, and ice. However, in well developed nations chlorination of water kills the HAVs that may enter the water supply.

Who Are More Likely to Be Infected?

People who have never had hepatitis A and who haven't been vaccinated against HAV, are more likely at risk of infection. The risk of infection is greatest in developing countries and most HAV infections will occur during early childhood. Is hepatitis A contagious to older people? Yes, and those who are in areas where direct fecal-oral transmission is likely to occur, such as prisons, mental institutions, and day-care centers. People who are more likely to be infected also include:

  • International travellers to developing countries
  • People with close contact of people infected with HAV
  • Military members stationed abroad, especially in developing countries
  • The sexual partners of people infected with HAV
  • Men having sex with other men
  • People who may work with HAV infected people
  • People who are using illegal drugs, injected or non-injected
  • People who work in professions such as food preparation, or health care
  • People who work or live in close quarters, such as residential facilities, day-care facilities, prisons, and dormitories
  • Health care workers who work in rural and native communities
  • Free-bleeders who may receive plasma
  • Mentally ill people and their caregivers

How to Prevent It

Is hepatitis A contagious? Yes, but there're ways to avoid getting the disease in the first place as well as measures to avoid spreading the disease to others.


Vaccines are available for the prevention of HAV infection in persons over the age of one. However, the vaccine can take up to 2 weeks to provide protection. Vaccination is recommended for high risk groups of people such as plumbers, people with liver disease, sewage treatment workers, intravenous drug users, etc.

Good Hygiene

Everyone should always practice proper hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, and dry them using a clean towel:

  • After using the rest-room
  • After handling objects such as condoms or diapers
  • Before preparing any food or drink
  • Before your meals

What Can Be Done to Avoid Infecting Others?

If you have HAV, along with washing your hands properly, you should avoid the following conditions when you're infectious, which is until at least one week after the onset of jaundice:

  • Don't share eating or drinking utensils with others
  • Don't prepare any food or drink for others
  • Don't share towels and linens with others
  • Don't have intercourse
  • Wash eating utensils in hot soapy water, and machine wash towels and linens

The following people who have HAV should not attend school or work while infectious, including:

  • Food handlers
  • People whose work involves close personal contact, such as health care and child care workers
  • Children
  • Those who were infected should check with their health care provider before returning to work or school.

How Will You Know If You're Infected?

Is hepatitis A contagious? Yes, but how do you know if you were infected? Symptoms, if they occur, usually begin about 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to HAV. About 8 out of 10 adults will have symptoms, while children seldom show any symptoms at all. They develop over a couple of days in mild infections, and last about 4 to 6 weeks. The more severe infections can last about 6 months.

Common symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Low fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscular aches and pains

A few days later, some symptoms of liver problems may appear, including:

  • Light-colored bowel movements
  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing in the white parts of your eyes
  • Yellow skin (jaundice). It's less common in children under age 6.
  • Itchy skin
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea and vomiting

If your child has HAV, they might also have:

  • A cough
  • A sore throat
  • Other cold symptoms

If you're over age 50, or have a long-term liver disease, you may have a more severe case of the disease called fulminate HAV infection. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion and changes in alertness
  • Liver function continues to get worse
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes that gets worse
  • Blood clotting problems

When you see your physician, they may spot other signs that you've got the disease, such as:

  • Tenderness in the upper right side of your belly
  • Swollen liver and spleen

When to Worry

A health care provider should be consulted if any of the following conditions occur:

  • Nausea and vomiting that does not improve within 48 hours
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Dark colored urine
  • Pain in the abdomen

A physician can diagnose HAV by a physical exam, personal history, and blood tests.

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