Hepatitis A Basics

Key points

  • Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).
  • HAV infection usually causes a mild, short-term illness.
  • HAV is contagious and spreads through close person-to-person contact and eating contaminated food or drink.
  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection.
A representation of the hepatitis A virus in the liver

About hepatitis A

The hepatitis A virus is highly contagious. People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks or several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. 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.

Since 2016, there have been outbreaks in multiple states caused by person-to-person transmission. These outbreaks have primarily been from person-to-person contact, especially among people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, and men who have sex with men.

Hepatitis A in 2022

  • 49% of all hepatitis A cases reported in 2022 occurred in people 30–49 years old.
  • From 2021 to 2022, there was nearly a 60% decrease in the number of newly reported HAV cases.
  • The number of hepatitis A cases in 2022 remained almost 2 times as high as in 2015.
  • 58% of hepatitis A cases occurred among non-Hispanic White people.

Are you a health care provider?‎

For information for clinicians, see the hepatitis A clinical overview.

Signs and symptoms

Not everyone with hepatitis A has symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear 2–7 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can feel sick for as long as 6 months.

Symptoms can include:

  • Dark urine or clay-colored stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, stomach pain, throwing up
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

Risk factors

Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated or previously infected can get hepatitis A. Certain life circumstances and behaviors can also increase your risk of infection.

How it spreads

Hepatitis A is spread when someone ingests the virus, even in very small amounts. This usually occurs through person-to-person contact or by eating or drinking contaminated food or drink.


The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated. You need to get all the shots in the series to be fully protected.

CDC recommends the following groups get vaccinated against hepatitis A:

  • All children ages 12–23 months.
  • All children and adolescents between ages 2–18 years who have not been vaccinated.
  • All people, including pregnant people, with increased risk factors for hepatitis A.

Get vaccinated‎

Learn more about recommendations and options for hepatitis A vaccination.

In addition, it’s important to practice good hand hygiene — including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.

Learn more about preventing hepatitis A.

Screening, testing, and diagnosis

A doctor can give you a blood test if you think you have been exposed to HAV.

Are you a health care provider?‎

For information for clinicians, see testing options for hepatitis A.

Treatment and recovery

To treat the symptoms of hepatitis A, doctors usually recommend resting, eating a well-balanced diet, and making sure you get enough fluids.

Clarifying misconceptions

Hepatitis A is sometimes difficult to understand, especially how it spreads and how people recover. Here are a few misconceptions cleared up for you.

"If I don’t have symptoms, I’m not infected."

Many people with hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. Young children are more likely than adults to have hepatitis A without symptoms.

"If I don’t have symptoms, I can’t spread the virus to others."

You can still spread HAV to others even if you don’t have any symptoms. It’s possible to spread HAV up to 2 weeks before you have any symptoms.

"I can get infected with HAV more than once."

If you have been infected with HAV in the past, you can’t get infected again. Once you recover from hepatitis A, you develop antibodies that protect you from reinfection.

What to expect long-term

People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks or several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.

What CDC is doing

CDC supports health departments that conduct viral hepatitis A outbreak response and tracking.

Since 2016, CDC has provided guidance and support to 37 states that have reported person-to-person outbreaks of hepatitis A. To assist with outbreak investigations, CDC sent disease intervention specialists, epidemiologists, lab experts, and public health advisors to nine states.

CDC continues to support vaccine supply and vaccine policy development.


For more resources, visit hepatitis A patient resources.