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.
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. 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 or eating food.
What are the symptoms?
Most infants and young children infected with hepatitis A have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Most of the time, no one knows that they even had hepatitis A. Older children, teens and adults are much more likely to become sick when infected with hepatitis A.
Symptoms can include:
- loss of appetite,
- abdominal pain,
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
Rarely, hepatitis A infection causes such severe disease that the liver stops working and the person can die. In other cases, a liver transplant may be needed.
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 go away on its own. Unlike hepatitis B, people with hepatitis A do not become carriers (infected for life).
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 of getting hepatitis A or to prevent infection after being exposed. Speak to your doctor about the vaccine that is best for you. If necessary, hepatitis A vaccine may be given to babies as young as 6 months.
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. Some people (young babies and people who have a weak immune system) may also be given immunoglobulin (IG – a product made from blood that has protective antibodies). The vaccine or IG must be given as soon as possible after they have been exposed.
What can parents do?
- Make sure everyone in the house washes their hands after going to the toilet or changing a diaper, and before preparing or eating food.
- If you know your child has hepatitis A, they should not return to a child care facility or school until 1 week after the illness started.
- If you or your child is 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.
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: September 2020