Hepatitis A

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (hep A) is a contagious virus that affects the liver. Hep A can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting months. The virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect your liver's ability to function properly. 

Download fact sheet (PDF)

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

People infected with hep A can have a variety of symptoms. Some people do not get sick at all but they can still spread the infection to others. Often people with hep A develop the following symptoms 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus:

  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Dark urine, pale stools
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Symptoms are often mild, typically lasting one to two weeks. In severe cases, the symptoms can last several months. For pregnant women, hep A is more serious and can be fatal, particularly for women in their third trimester.

There is currently an approved vaccine for hep A. Once vaccinated you are immune for life. If you have already had the virus, your body has developed a natural immunity. 

How does someone get hepatitis A?

The hep A virus is spread from person to person through contact with infected feces (stool). People can carry the virus without showing any symptoms, then spread it to other people, foods or surfaces. Most commonly, the virus spreads through:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person (oral – anal contact)
  • Sharing needles and drug paraphernalia
  • A contaminated food handler
  • Hands that are not washed properly after using the restroom or helping someone use the restroom
  • Contamination during harvest, manufacturing and processing of food
  • Persons travelling to countries where hep A is common

Food sources of hep A include:

  • Contaminated water
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
How do I get tested for hepatitis A?

A blood test is used to diagnose hep A.  This blood test can reveal if an individual currently has hep A, has had hep A in the past (resolved) or has previously received the vaccine.  

What is the treatment for hepatitis A?

There is no medication to treat hepatitis A. Most people are sick for about 1 to 2 weeks and then recover, while others may develop more serious illness. It is important to see your healthcare provider if you think you might be sick with hepatitis A. After recovering from the illness, a person is considered immune and protected against hepatitis A in the future.

How do I protect myself from hepatitis A?

The following tips will help protect you and your family from hep A:

  • Talk to your doctor about getting a hepatitis A vaccination
  • Wash your hands after using the restroom and changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food
  • When travelling, especially to developing countries:
    • Only drink commercially bottled water or boiled water
    • Avoid ice cubes in drinks
    • Eat only freshly cooked food
    • Avoid non-peelable raw fruit or vegatables
  • Cook food to a safe internal temperature using a digital thermometer
  • If you think you have been exposed to hep A, see your physician immediately. Vaccination can prevent the onset of symptoms if given within two weeks of exposure
  • If you’ve been exposed to hep A, or any other gastrointestinal illness, do not prepare food for other people

How do I practice safer sex?

  • Use an internal or external condom, every time you have oral, vaginal and/or anal sex
  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants
  • If you share sex toys, cover the toy with a condom and clean after each use
  • Get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) regularly 

Download fact sheet - Hepatitis A - Practising safer sex and safer drug use (PDF)

How do I practice safer drug use?
  • Use new equipment every time you use, including pipes, needles, syringes and all other supplies (like cookers, filters and water)
  • Never share equipment with anyone, including your sex partner(s)
  • Access Needle and Syringe Programs or Supervised Consumption Services for new equipment and harm reduction services
Download fact sheet - Hepatitis A - Practicing safer sex and safer drug use (PDF)

For more information:

  • Canadian Liver Foundation - www.liver.ca, or call 1-800-563-5483
  • Health Canada www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
  • Ontario Ministry of Health - www.hepcontario.ca
  • www.catie.ca (Canada’s source of HIV and hepatitis C information) or call their toll-free telephone line at 1-800-236-1638
  • Call the Sexual Health Infoline Ontario at 1-800-668-2437 if you have questions or need help.
  • www.sexandu.ca

Sexual Health Clinic

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Ottawa. ON K1N5P7

613-234-4641 | TTY: 613-580-9656

The Site Harm Reduction Program 

Site Office (Needle & Syringe and Supervised Consumption Services)

179 Clarence St

Ottawa. ON K1N5P7

613-580-2424 ext. 29047

9am-9pm daily

Site Van- Mobile harm reduction services

5pm-11:30pm daily

613-232-3232 (collect calls accepted)


Visit Harm Reduction Services In Ottawa for more information on local resources

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