Health Guide

Viral hepatitis A

What is it?

Hepatitis (hep-uh-TI-tis) A is an infection (in-FEK-shun) of the liver. It is called hepatitis A because that is the name of the virus (germ) that causes the disease. There is a vaccine (medicine) that can keep you from getting hepatitis A. If you already have hepatitis A, it is too late to get the vaccine. There is no quick cure for hepatitis A. You may be sick with hepatitis A for 6 months to a year. You may even have your symptoms go away and then return and go away again before the year has passed. Hepatitis A will finally go away and you will get better.


People almost always get hepatitis A from fecal (BM) contamination (kun-tah-min-A-shun). There are 3 main ways this can happen:

  • Food handlers who have the disease did not wash their hands after having a BM.
  • You drank water or ate raw shellfish (clams, oysters) that came from unclean water areas.
  • You were in a place with poor sanitary conditions (dirty) where the hepatitis A virus is common. For example, a small place with too many people living in it.

There other ways you may get hepatitis A, but these are much less common:

  • Day care workers who do not wash their hands after changing a diaper.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • The blood of an infected person getting into your blood.
  • Users of both injectable and non-injectable street drugs can get it by using dirty or used needles.

Many people cannot remember how they may have become infected. There is a long time between when the germ entered your body and when you first had symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms:

You may have no symptoms at all or symptoms may appear 28 to 50 days after getting infected. About half the people with hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. Many children have hepatitis A without symptoms. The older people are when they get hepatitis A, the more likely they are to have symptoms. Following are early signs and symptoms:

  • Tiredness.
  • No interest in eating.
  • Headache.
  • Low fever, usually under 100.4°F (38°C).

After about two weeks, you may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Jaundice (JON-diss). When you are jaundiced, your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. You may first find that the underside of your tongue is jaundiced.
  • Nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up).
  • Dark-colored urine and light-colored BMs.
  • Pain in your right side near the bottom of your rib cage.
  • Itchy skin.

You are most contagious (kun-TA-jus) (other people can catch hepatitis A from you) in the two weeks before getting jaundiced and the first week after being jaundiced.

Wellness Recommendations:

If you know where you may have come in contact with hepatitis A, getting a gamma globulin (antibodies) shot may prevent you from getting the disease. You may also get a hepatitis A vaccine series to prevent getting the disease. Good hand washing and hygiene helps prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

Medical Care:

You will usually be treated at home. Resting and eating healthy food will help you get better. You should drink 8 (soda pop can size) glasses of water each day. You may need to be put in the hospital for tests and treatment. There is no special medicine used to treat hepatitis A. Do not use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin unless necessary. Friends and family may get a shot of gamma globulin or the hepatitis A vaccine to keep from getting the disease.

Dietary Measures:

  • Do not drink alcohol (beer, wine, and hard alcohol) as it can cause liver problems.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



      Complementary Therapies:

      • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has long been used to treat chronic viral hepatitis.

      Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

      Talk to your caregiver if:

      • You would like medicine to treat hepatitis A.
      • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
      • You bruise easily.
      • You are very sleepy or feel confused.
      • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


      • You have bad abdominal (belly) pain.
      • You have BMs that are red or black and sticky.
      • Your vomit (throw up) is red or looks like coffee grounds.
      • You are too dizzy to stand up.

      Care Agreement:

      You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


      1. Buzzelli G, Moscarella S, Giusti A et al: A pilot study on the liver protective effect of silybin-phosphatidylcholine complex (IdB1016) in chronic active hepatitis. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol 1993; 31:456-460.

      2. Dworniak D, Tchorzewski H, Pokoca L et al: Treatment with thymic extract TFX for chronic active hepatitis B. Archiv Immunol Ther Exper 1991; 39(5/6):537-547.

      3. He J, Wang C & Xu J: Relation of changes in plasma cAMP, cGMP and the clinical conditions, pathology and the type of traditional Chinese medicine in 50 cases of chronic severe icteric hepatitis. Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1990; 10(2):67, 75-77.

      4. Ishizaka S, Kuriyama S, Kikuchi E et al: A novel oral adjuvant for hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccines. J Hepatol 1990; 11(3):326-329.

      5. Wang CB: Treatment of severe chronic hepatitis B by combination of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine therapy--with an analysis of 122 cases. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1992; 12(4):195, 203-206.

      Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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