What you need to know about hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be passed on when feces (stool, poo, shit) from an infected person gets into the mouth of another person. The virus infects the liver. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A but there is no treatment for hepatitis A. Most people recover from the infection on their own. There are ways to lower the chance of getting or passing on hepatitis A, such as getting vaccinated, practising good hygiene and using a barrier for any kind of anal sex.

The words we use here – CATIE is committed to using language that is relevant to everyone. People use different terms to describe their bodies. This text uses medical terms, such as vagina and penis, to describe genitals. Other people may use other terms, such as private parts or dick or front hole. CATIE acknowledges and respects that people use words that they are most comfortable with.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus infects the liver. A person with hepatitis A can pass it on if their infected feces (stool, poo, shit) gets into the mouth of another person.

Most adults with hepatitis A have some symptoms. Symptoms can take 2 to 6 weeks to appear. Common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or abdominal pain
  • fever
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • light-coloured stool
  • dark urine (pee)

Most adults will recover from the infection on their own within 2 months.

Could I get hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is passed when feces (stool, poo, shit) of an infected person makes its way into the mouth of another person (who is not immune or who has never been exposed to the virus before).

During sex, hepatitis A can be passed on:

  • through oral-anal contact (rimming)
  • when body parts (fingers, penis) or sex toys come into contact with infected feces and then enter a person’s mouth
  • when someone handles a used condom after anal sex and then putting their fingers into their mouth

Gay men, other men who have sex with men and people who use drugs are at higher risk of hepatitis A. Individuals who travel to regions that have poor sanitation or who live with someone who has hepatitis A are also at increased risk. Children in daycare are also at risk because they are around children in diapers and may not be able to wash their own hands.

Hepatitis A and HIV

People with HIV may have more severe symptoms with their hepatitis A infection and may take longer to recover from hepatitis A.

Someone who has hepatitis A is not at greater risk of getting or passing on HIV.

What can I do?

Prevent infection

The most effective way to prevent hepatitis A is to get the vaccine, especially for people with HIV, gay men and other men who have sex with men, those traveling to areas with poor sanitation, or those with household contact with someone from a region where hepatitis A is common. A vaccine against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B is available.

Wash your hands after using the toilet or any other time your hands touch your anus or another person’s anus.

During sex, use barrier methods such as condoms, gloves and oral dams to cover body parts and sex toys.

Get tested

The only way to know for sure whether or not you have hepatitis A is to get tested. A doctor or nurse can do the test. A simple blood test detects if you currently have hepatitis A, if you have had hepatitis A in the past or if you have already received the vaccine.

People at risk of hepatitis A should talk to their doctor about testing for hepatitis A and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. You can discuss which tests you need and how often you need them.

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis A, a public health staff person will talk to you about informing your sex partners and household contacts that they might have been exposed to hepatitis A and encouraging them to get tested. Your identity will not be revealed.

Hepatitis A cannot be cured with medication. Most adults will recover from the infection on their own. Once the infection clears, you have immunity from getting hepatitis A again.

Credits

This information sheet was developed in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN).

Resource

Hepatitis A CATIE fact sheet