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Hepatitis A

Sexually Transmitted Disease Facts

Type of Infection: Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), an RNA virus.

Modes of Transmission for Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is typically transmitted when feces come in contact with the mouth. Thus HAV can be transmitted through oral-anal sex. A person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms appear.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A: Most infections cause unwanted symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, dark urine, jaundice, and moderate liver swelling with tenderness. Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be sick for as long as 6 months.

Possible Consequences of Hepatitis A for the Infected Person: Long-term complications are rare. However, sudden, severe hepatitis can occur, resulting in liver failure and death. The disease is more dangerous in people over the age of 50.

Danger! Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at elevated risk for certain STDs, including hepatitis A. Despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines, many MSM have not been adequately vaccinated against viral hepatitis. For example, approximately 20% of all new hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections in the United States are among MSM. The US Centers for Disease Control recommends the hepatitis A vaccination for MSM.

Treatment of Hepatitis A: No specific treatment for HAV exists. Most people with hepatitis A will feel sick for a few months, and some will need to be hospitalized. During this time, doctors usually recommend rest, good nutrition, and plenty of fluids. People with hepatitis A should check with a doctor before taking any prescriptions, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, which can potentially damage the liver, and alcohol should be avoided.

Prevention of Hepatitis A: Vaccinations and post-exposure treatments are effective in preventing hepatitis A infection. Vaccinating all men who have sex with men, persons who use illicit drugs, and travelers to areas with rampant hepatitis A, such as Ethiopia, is currently recommended.

Source of Information: JM Marrazzo, F Guest, W Cates, "Reproductive Tract Infections," In Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Diseases & Conditions, Hepatitis A, FAQs for the Public, accessed 04/23/2009.