Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects the liver. It is easy to pass on during sex or get from contaminated food and water. Nearly everyone makes a full recovery.
Symptoms of hepatitis A:
Hepatitis A symptoms can be so mild you may not realise you have it, but up to six weeks after infection it can cause:
- mild flu-like symptoms
- extreme tiredness
- itchy skin
- stomach pain
- jaundice (where your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow, your urine turns dark and your faeces (poo) turn pale).
Symptoms can last several weeks, taking months to get back to normal.
Someone with hepatitis A is most infectious two weeks before jaundice appears.
The virus lives in faeces and minute traces of it carry the infection on the hands or on food prepared by an infected person. Water can also be contaminated, especially abroad.
The virus needs to get into the mouth to infect someone. This can happen during sex when tiny amounts of faeces get on fingers and into mouths through:
- anal sex without condoms
- handling used condoms and sex toys that have been in someone else’s anus.
How can I protect myself and others?
You can protect yourself by getting vaccinated - it's especially important that you do it if you:
- have close contact with someone who has the infection
- are a gay man
- inject drugs
- travel to parts of the world where the infection is common.
You might be able to get vaccinated for free by your GP or a sexual health clinic. The vaccine protects you for 10 years or longer.
A vaccine exists that protects against both hepatitis A and B.
If you have hepatitis A:
Tell people you live with or have recently had sex with to ask their doctor about having an urgent vaccination.
Avoid sex and preparing food for others until told you are told you are no longer infectious.
- avoiding sex that involves contact with faeces
- using condoms for anal sex
- washing hands after touching someone’s anus or handling used condoms and sex toys
- using a latex barrier (like a condom cut into a square) for rimming and latex gloves for fisting.
If you are not vaccinated and are exposed to hep A, there is a post-exposure prophylaxis called 'human normal immunoglobulins' (HNIGs). This can be given within two weeks after exposure and it can protect you for up to three to six months.
Treatment for hepatitis A
Most cases are diagnosed by GPs (family doctors) rather than sexual health clinics and no special treatment is needed.
If you recently had sex with someone or share your house with others, they should see a doctor straight away about getting vaccinated to stop them getting infected.
Avoid sex and preparing food for others until told you are no longer infectious.
A blood test will confirm whether you have picked up the virus.
The usual treatment for hepatitis A is to simply rest.
You may need some time off work while you recover from the flu-like symptoms. Once you have had hepatitis A you’re immune and cannot get it again, but you can get other types of hepatitis.
What else can I do to stay healthy?
- avoid alcohol until your liver recovers
- avoid paracetamol
- recreational drugs should be avoided to allow your liver to get better.
HIV and hepatitis A
If you are living with HIV and are co-infected with hepatitis A, please see our co-infection page for more information.
Next: Hepatitis B ››
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