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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). The disease is usually mild in children, but can be more serious in adults.

What are the symptoms?

Most young infants and children infected with hepatitis A mild symptoms and do not go to a doctor. Therefore, most of the time, no one knows that they even had hepatitis A. Teens 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,
  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), and tea-coloured urine (pee) because the liver isn’t working properly .

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. Often children, who are not sick and aren’t known to even have hepatitis A, spread it to adults who then get sick. To prevent this, be sure that everyone in your house always washes their hands with soap and water after every diaper change or after using the toilet, and before preparing and eating food.

How is it diagnosed?

Hepatitis A is diagnosed with a blood test.

How can it be treated?

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

Is there a vaccine?

In Canada, there are several hepatitis A vaccines available for children 1 year of age or older and adults who are at risk for getting hepatitis A. Speak to your doctor about the vaccine that is best for you.  

If you are travelling to a country where the disease is common, you should get the vaccine before leaving Canada.

For more information about where hepatitis A is common visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.

How can I prevent the spread of Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A can be prevented in people who are known to have been in recent close contact with an infected person. They need to get hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin (Ig) as soon as possible after they have been exposed. Ig is a product made from blood that has protective antibodies.

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.
  • If you will be travelling to at risk countries, consider immunization.

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: June 2014