Hepatitis A: Causes, symptoms, and vaccination

Learn more about Hepatitis A and how to prevent it with a vaccine
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Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A virus. While it’s not common in Ireland, there are some groups who are more at risk, including people who have travelled to certain parts of the world, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs.

How do you get Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is transmitted when the feces (poo) of a person infected with Hepatitis A gets into the mouth of an uninfected person.

This can happen through: 

  • Eating food prepared by someone who hasn’t washed their hands or who have washed their hands in contaminated water
  • Drinking contaminated water 
  • Coming into close contact with someone who is infected
  • Having sex with someone who is infected, especially during anal-oral sex or “rimming”
  • Injecting drugs using contaminated needles

What countries are most at risk?

Although Hepatitis A can be found worldwide, when travelling to the following areas, it’s best to get a vaccine before you go in order to avoid becoming infected with Hepatitis A:

  • Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa
  • The Indian subcontinent (particularly India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal)
  • Some parts of the Far East (excluding Japan)
  • The Middle East
  • South and Central America

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

Symptoms vary a lot from person to person. Some people won’t have any symptoms at all, so the best way to know is to get tested

Someone with Hepatitis A is most infectious from around two weeks before symptoms appear up until around a week after symptoms appear.

If symptoms occur, they can be similar to the flu. Most people with Hepatitis A usually have:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low-grade fever

Several days later, symptoms of liver problems may occur. You may have:

  • Dark urine
  • Light-coloured poo
  • Yellow skin
  • Yellowing of the white part of the eyes
  • Stomach pain
  • Itchy skin

If you are showing any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Most people recover within a few months, but depending on the person it could take longer.

Is there treatment for Hepatitis A?

If you think you have Hepatitis A, it’s very important that you go to see your doctor so that they can run a test and confirm it. If you do have the infection, they might monitor you over time to make sure your liver is working properly and make sure you’re recovering.

There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A, but you can relieve symptoms by:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Getting rest
  • Taking painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Avoiding alcohol to reduce the strain on your liver

If things aren’t improving after a couple of months, go back to your doctor.

How to prevent Hepatitis A

There are a number of things you can do to avoid becoming infected, and to prevent spreading Hepatitis A if you have the virus.

Get vaccinated

If you are in an at-risk group (men who have sex with men or people who inject drugs), or if you are planning on visiting any of the at-risk countries, get the Vaccination. 

The vaccine for Hepatitis A  is given together with a Hepatitis B vaccine. It is available for free at some STI clinics, so ask if your local clinic offers it. Otherwise, speak to your doctor about getting vaccinated, or visit a travel vaccinations clinic.

Use protection

If you’re having anal-oral sex (rimming) after recovering from the infection, use a dental dam.

How to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A if you are infected

If you have been infected and you’re experiencing symptoms, here are some things you can do to prevent spreading it to anyone else:

  • Practise good hygiene and sanitation and wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid work or school for at least a week after your symptoms first start
  • Avoid having sex while you’re infectious – talk to your doctor or visit your local STI clinic to discuss when you can become sexually active again
  • Avoid preparing food for others while you’re sick
  • Avoid sharing towels
  • Clean the toilet and other parts of the bathroom like the flush handle and tap regularly
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