What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (HAV) is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Other viral liver infections are caused by hepatits B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses.

HAV is the most common hepatitis virus worldwide, particularly prevalent in developing countries. You usually get hepatitis A by eating contaminated food.

Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, hepatitis A is not a chronic (long-term) disease. Although HAV causes the liver to swell and inflame, the liver heals usually. Once a person is infected, they will not become infected again.

How do you get hepatitis A?

You can get the hepatitis A virus by coming in contact with an infected person's:

  • Bodily fluids and feces
  • During oral or anal sex
  • Food, drinks, eating utensils, and cigarettes
  • Eating raw or undecooked shellfish contaminated with sewerage (e.g., oysters, clams)

Symptoms and signs of hepatitis A

Some physical signs of hepatitis A include:

  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (can last 1 to 6 weeks)
  • Abnormal bowel movements (infectious for 2 weeks)
  • Enlarged liver

It takes an average of 4 weeks for the signs of heptatis A to appear after being inititally exposed and infected.

Can I get tested for hepatitis A during pregnancy?

Normally in the US doctors test for hepatitis B at the first prenatal visit, but not for hepatitis A. If you have typical symptoms and you suspect that you may have hepatitis A, your doctor can perform a blood test to confirm an infection. However, the blood test can't detect the hepatitis A virus, until 2 to 5 weeks after being exposed to hepatitis A.

What are potential complications with hepatitis B during pregnancy?

There is an increased risk of premature delivery if you become infected with HBV during pregnancy. Complications include:

  • Premature delivery
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
  • Low birth weight
  • If a newborn becomes infected with hepatitis A, they will often experience very mild physical symptoms.

What is the treatment for hepatitis A during pregnancy?

Treatment for hepatitis A exposure includes an injection of normal human immunoglobulin (NIGH) along with the hepatitis A vaccine. NIGH provides temporary immunity to the hepatitis A virus until the vaccine starts to work. The hepatitis A vaccine is consider safe to receive during pregnancy and can last up to 12 months. If you plan to travel to countries that have a high risk of hepatitis A during your pregnancy, your doctor can provide you with a hepatitis A vaccination, 2 weeks before your travel.

Can I breastfeed with hepatitis A?

Women infected with hepatitis A are encouraged to breastfeed with care. Make sure you wash your hands with warm water and soap before touching your breasts and nipples, especially after using the washroom or changing your baby's diaper.

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Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Sexually Transmitted Diseases