Hepatitis A is a viral infection that strikes the liver. The virus causes the liver damage. Liver function is reduced. Waste that is normally eliminated by the liver builds up in the blood. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, usually results.

Hepatitis A is passed from person to person through contact with infected stool. You can get the virus from an infected child by changing a diaper or by having sexual contact with an infected person. Contaminated food and water can also spread the virus.

The virus is very common in developing countries. It also occurs in the United States.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal pain or soreness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Chills

If you have been in contact with the virus and have not been vaccinated, a shot of the vaccine or immune globulin (IG) can prevent you from getting sick. It can also prevent you from spreading the virus. Either shot should be given as soon as possible.

If you do get sick, usually symptoms will resolve after rest, drinking plenty of fluids. You should also avoid medication that can damage the liver and alcohol.

At times, people with hepatitis A need to be hospitalized. Rarely, the infection can be fatal if the liver is severely damaged.

The vaccine contains an inactivated form of the hepatitis A virus. It is given as an injection in the arm.

A combined vaccine that protects against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B is also available.