Hepatitis A

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Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus (a germ that can make people sick). It is usually mild and rarely causes permanent liver damage. The disease is usually more severe in adults than in children.

What are the symptoms?

Most young infants and children infected with hepatitis A don’t get sick or have any symptoms. If your child does get sick, it is likely to be mild and brief with only a fever.

Adolescents and adults are much more likely to become ill when infected with hepatitis A. Symptoms could include:

  • fever,
  • fatigue,
  • loss of appetite,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • abdominal pain,
  • because the liver isn’t working properly – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), and tea-coloured urine (pee).

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of infected people. It can spread directly from person to person or in food or water that has been contaminated with stool that has the virus.

Because most children infected with hepatitis A have no symptoms, be sure that everyone in your house washes their hands with soap and water after every diaper change or using the toilet, and before preparing and eating food.

How is it diagnosed?

A blood test is needed to diagnose hepatitis A.

How can it be treated?

There is no medication to treat hepatitis A. It is a short-term infection that will usually go away on its own.

Is there a vaccine?

Several hepatitis A vaccines are approved for use in Canada in children 1 year of age or older and adults who are at risk for getting hepatitis A.

Families traveling to a country where the disease is common should get the vaccine before leaving. For more information visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/index-eng.php.

Can the spread of Hepatitis A be prevented after exposure?

Hepatitis A can be prevented in people who have been in close contact with an infected person. They need to get hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin (Ig) as soon as possible after exposure. Ig is a product made from blood that has protective substances, called antibodies, against hepatitis A virus. Your doctor, in consultation with the local public health agency, will decide whether to give immune globulin injections, the vaccine, or both to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A to others.

  • The vaccine is not given routinely in all provinces/territories.
  • The vaccine only works if your child gets it within 1 week of being exposed to the virus.
  • If it has been more than 1 week or if your child has a weak immune system, the vaccine alone may not be enough. Your child may be given Ig as well.
  • Ig doesn’t work if more than 2 weeks have passed since exposure.

What can parents do?

  • Make sure everyone in your house washes their hands after going to the toilet or changing a diaper, and before preparing food or eating.
  • If you know your child has hepatitis A, she should not return to a child care facility or school until 1 week after the illness started.

Source: Well Beings: A Guide to Health in Child Care (3rd edition)


Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee

Last updated: August 2008