Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. The liver is one of the largest organs and a very important part of your child’s body. Some of the functions of the liver include:
When your child has hepatitis, the liver is irritated (inflamed). It may be swollen and tender.
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is spread by contact with infected bowel movements. Someone who is infected may pass the infection to others by not washing his or her hands, especially after using the bathroom. It is also possible to pass the virus around by not washing hands after changing a diaper or helping a child use the toilet. Sometimes there are outbreaks of hepatitis A at day care centers or restaurants. Your child might also get the virus from:
Your child has a higher risk for infection if he or she has not had a hepatitis A vaccination and:
Hepatitis A is usually contagious for 2 to 3 weeks before symptoms appear and for 2 to 3 weeks afterward. During this time, others can be infected by touching anything contaminated with bowel movements of the infected person. The disease can be spread by people, especially toddlers and preschoolers, who do not have any symptoms and may not know they carry the virus.
Symptoms usually appear 2 to 6 weeks after your child is infected with the virus. Sometimes hepatitis A is so mild that there are no symptoms. Most young children who have the virus will not get sick at all. If they are infected, the virus is in their bowel movement and can be passed to others.
If your child has symptoms, the illness usually starts with:
After several days your child may have:
Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's medical history and symptoms and examine your child. Your provider will ask about any recent travel. Your child will have blood tests. If blood tests show that the liver is not working normally, your child may have tests to find out if a virus is causing the problems. The tests will also determine the type of virus causing the infection.
The main treatment is rest. Recovery from hepatitis A usually takes 4 to 8 weeks. Your child may not have much energy for months. The disease rarely has lasting effects. It usually does not cause permanent liver damage.
Usually your child does not need to stay at the hospital for treatment. If your child loses too much fluid from vomiting or diarrhea, your child may need to go to the hospital to get IV fluids.
Because the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
A vaccine is recommended for all children over 1 year of age. Two shots are given 6 to 18 months apart. If your child is traveling to an area where hepatitis A is common, the hepatitis A vaccine is very important. It’s best for your child to get both shots before starting the trip. This means getting the first shot at least 7 months before the trip and then the second shot 6 months later. If you don't have that much time before your child leaves, be sure your child gets at least one shot 2 weeks or more before the trip.
Some states and counties now require proof of immunization for school or preschool entry. Ask your child’s healthcare provider if your area requires the hepatitis A vaccine.
If your child has not had hepatitis A shots and has been exposed, your child may be given the hepatitis A vaccine or may be given a shot of immune globulin. Immune globulin may not always prevent hepatitis A, but it may help to make it milder. The protection starts almost right away but lasts for just 2 to 4 months.
If your child has an active hepatitis A infection or if you think he may have been exposed to hepatitis A, make sure he always washes his hands thoroughly after using the restroom. This will help prevent spread of the disease to others.
If someone in your household has hepatitis:
You can get more information from: