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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Hepatitis A facts

What is it?

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

  • Symptoms usually begin 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus. The duration of illness varies, and most people recover within 3 weeks. Hepatitis A infection is more severe with age, and in rare circumstances, can cause severe complications and liver failure.
  • In adults, early symptoms include:
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Stomach or side pain
  • Dark yellow or brown urine, pale or white-colored stools (bowel movements), and jaundice (yellow eyes or skin) may also be present but do not occur in all cases.
  • Persons can have all or only a few symptoms.
  • Some people infected with hepatitis A, especially young children, may have only a mild flu-like illness without jaundice, or may have no symptoms at all.
How is it spread?
  • The virus leaves the body through the stool (feces) of infected persons. Others become infected when hands, food, or objects contaminated with infected stool are put in the mouth. The amount of contamination needed to spread infection is very small and is not visible to the eye.
  • Hepatitis A can be spread:
    • When an infected person does not wash hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.
    • By drinking water or eating shellfish contaminated with the virus.
    • Through sexual activity if hands or mouth come in contact with stool or parts of the body contaminated with stool.
  • A person is most contagious during the 2 weeks before to 1 week after illness symptoms begin.
  • Hepatitis A is not spread by kissing, sneezing, or by saliva.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
  • Hepatitis A is diagnosed with a blood test.
  • There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
  • Rest, a low fat diet, and plenty of fluids are recommended. Drugs and alcohol should be avoided.
How can hepatitis A be prevented?
  • The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine, which provides protection for many years. Vaccine is recommended for:
    • All children 1 to 18 years of age.
    • Men who have sex with other men.
    • Drug users (injection and non-injection).
    • International travelers where hepatitis A is common (includes all areas of the world except Canada, Western Europe & Scandinavia, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia).
    • Persons with chronic liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
    • Persons with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophiliacs.
    • Anyone who wants protection against hepatitis A.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and running, warm water after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
  • Drink water from approved sources only. Chlorination of water as recommended in the United States will inactivate HAV. Boiling or cooking food (including shellfish) and beverage items for at least 1 minute to 185° F (85° C) also inactivates HAV.

  • If you are exposed to hepatitis A virus:
    • If you were exposed to an infected individual at any point during the two weeks before that person's symptoms started through one week after and you have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A or ever had hepatitis A infection, you may be at risk of infection with hepatitis A.
    • Preventive treatment can often prevent hepatitis A if given within 14 days of exposure. Preventive treatment may be recommended if you:
      • Have eaten food or put objects in your mouth handled by a person infected with hepatitis A.
      • Have had sexual or other intimate contact with a person who has hepatitis A.
      • Are a child attending, or an employee of a child care program in which another child or employee has hepatitis A.
Report all King County cases to Public Health by calling 206-296-4774.

For King County health care providers: