'Hepatitis' means inflammation or swelling of the liver. It can be caused by chemicals or drugs, or by different kinds of viral infections. One common cause of infectious hepatitis is hepatitis A virus. Infection with one type of hepatitis virus does NOT give protection against infection with other hepatitis viruses.
Symptoms include feeling unwell, tiredness, fever, nausea,
lack of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and occasionally joint pains, followed
by dark urine, pale stools and jaundice (yellowing of the eyeballs and skin).
Jaundice, dark urine and pale stools do not occur in all cases.
Illness is usually mild and lasts one to three weeks. It
is almost always followed by complete recovery. Occasionally it is more severe
and symptoms can last longer, particularly in people with chronic liver
disease. Small children who become infected usually have no symptoms.
Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver disease and
deaths caused by hepatitis A do occur but are very rare. Occasionally people
are hospitalised for the disease and can have relapsing symptoms after the
disease has seemed to have cleared.
The period between exposure to the virus and the development
of symptoms is usually about four weeks, but can range from two to seven weeks.
Infected people may pass on the virus to others
typically from two weeks before the development of symptoms until one week
after the appearance of jaundice, or until two weeks after the onset of
symptoms if there is no jaundice (about four weeks in total). Caution is
advised even beyond this period as the virus can be shed in stools for longer
Large amounts of the virus are found in the faeces
(stools) of an infected person during this infectious period. The virus can
survive in the environment for several weeks in the right conditions.
Hepatitis A is usually transmitted when virus from an
infected person is swallowed by another person through:
Outbreaks of hepatitis
A have been traced to:
hepatitis A continues to be a problem for people travelling overseas,
especially people visiting developing countries where hepatitis A is common.
Those who have not had hepatitis A and who have not been vaccinated against it are at risk of catching the disease.
A safe and effective vaccine is available against
hepatitis A, but may take two weeks or more to provide protection. It can
protect someone exposed to the virus if given within two weeks of contact. A
two-dose course six months apart is recommended for long-lasting protection.
Vaccination is recommended for the following higher-risk groups:
Everyone should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds and dry them with a clean towel:
If you have hepatitis A, as well as washing your
hands thoroughly, you should avoid the following activities while infectious
(your doctor will advise, but typically you are infectious until at least one
week after onset of jaundice or two weeks after the onset of symptoms if there
is no jaundice):
Diagnosis is based on the patient's symptoms and confirmed by by
hepatitis A antibody testing on the patient’s blood. Occasionally, hepatitis A
DNA testing (PCR) may also be used for diagnosis on blood or faeces samples.
is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Rest, good nutrition and fluids are
recommended. Avoiding alcohol will reduce the stress on the liver. Household
contacts and sexual partners of an infectious person may need to be immunised.
Vaccination may prevent illness if given within two weeks of contact with the
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055