What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.
How is it spread?
The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected. The hepatitis A virus is spread primarily through the oral-fecal route, when someone ingests the virus, usually through close personal contact with an infected person or from eating
contaminated food or drink.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A
Symptoms of hepatitis A usually appear 2 to 7 weeks after exposure and can
include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine or light-colored stools
- Feeling tired
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
Not everyone with hepatitis A has symptoms. Adults are more likely to have
symptoms than children.
People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In some people, the illness may be so severe that the person needs to be hospitalized. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and even death. This is more common in older people and in people with other serious health issues, such as chronic liver disease.
Those at Increased Risk for Hepatitis A
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups are at higher risk of getting or experiencing severe illness from hepatitis A.
People at increased risk for hepatitis A:
- International travelers
- Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men
- People who use or inject drugs
- People experiencing homelessness
- People with occupational risk for exposure
People at increased risk of experiencing severe illness from hepatitis A:
- People with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Persons with HIV
Vaccination is the best way to protect against hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A can be prevented with a vaccine, which is recommended for all children at age 1
and adults at risk.
Practicing good hand hygiene is also important to preventing the spread of hepatitis A, including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill the virus.
Recent Disease Trends in Florida
Vaccines against hepatitis A first became available in 1995 and led to a sharp decrease in hepatitis A cases nationally. Historically, many cases of hepatitis A in Florida have been associated with international travel. Consistent with national trends, from 2018-2020 Florida experienced a large epidemic of hepatitis A, particularly among persons who use drugs and persons experiencing homelessness.
Epidemiologic curve of hepatitis A cases by month in Florida
January 2018 - November 2022