Health A-Z

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What Is It?

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that can inflame and damage the liver. Unlike other forms of hepatitis, hepatitis A is usually mild and does not last long. Usually spread in contaminated food or water, hepatitis A also can be passed during sexual practices that involve the anus. In rare cases, hepatitis A can be spread by contact with the blood of a person who has the infection, for instance, when intravenous drug users share needles.

About 30% of people in the United States have been exposed to hepatitis A, but only a very small number of them develop symptoms from the disease. Americans most likely to get hepatitis A include:

  • People who eat shellfish taken from waters where raw sewage drains

  • Children and caregivers in daycare centers who are exposed to the stool of an infected child

  • International travelers

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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