What you need to know about hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus, which can be sexually transmitted. The virus is passed on when feces (stool, poo, shit) from a person who has hepatitis A gets into the mouth of another person. Hepatitis A affects the liver. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A, but there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection. Most people recover from hepatitis A on their own. There are ways to reduce the chances of getting or passing on hepatitis A, such as getting vaccinated, practicing good hygiene, and using a condom, glove or oral dam during any type of sexual contact with the anus (such as penis-anus, finger-anus or mouth-anus contact).
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.
Some 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 an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus, which can be sexually transmitted. The virus infects the liver. A person with hepatitis A can pass it on if their feces (stool, poo, shit) gets into the mouth of another person.
Most adults with hepatitis A have some symptoms. Symptoms can take two to six weeks to appear. Common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- nausea or abdominal pain
- yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- light-coloured stool
- dark urine (pee)
Most adults recover from hepatitis A infection on their own within two months.
Am I at risk of getting hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is passed when feces (stool, poo, shit) of a person with hepatitis A makes its way into the mouth of another person.
Hepatitis A can be passed on during sex:
- 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 puts their fingers into their own mouth or another person’s mouth
Some groups carry a higher burden of hepatitis A. These include gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), people who use drugs, people who travel to regions where hepatitis A is common, and people in close contact (sexual or non-sexual) with someone who has hepatitis A. Children in daycare are also at risk because they are around other children in diapers and may not be able to wash their own hands.
Hepatitis A and HIV
People living with HIV may have more severe symptoms if they have a hepatitis A infection, or may take longer to recover.
Someone who has hepatitis A is not at greater risk of getting or passing on HIV.
What can I do?
Get the hepatitis A vaccine. This is the most effective way to prevent getting hepatitis A. A hepatitis A vaccine is widely available and is highly effective. Vaccination is especially important for people at increased risk of infection or severe symptoms.
Use a condom during insertive vaginal and anal sex.
Use an oral dam during oral-anal sex (rimming).
When sharing a sex toy, wash the sex toy and put a new condom on it between each use.
Wash your hands after:
- handling a condom, glove, oral dam or sex toy
- using the toilet or any other time your hands touch your anus or another person’s anus
The only way to know whether or not you have hepatitis A is to get tested. You should get tested if you experience symptoms of hepatitis A or if you have a current or recent sex partner diagnosed with hepatitis A.
Consider getting tested if you:
- engage in sexual activities involving the anus (anal sex, rimming, fingering, sharing sex toys)
- are in close household contact with a person diagnosed with hepatitis A (such as eating together)
- have visited (or plan to visit) a region where hepatitis A is common, or where sanitation systems (sewage, tap water) are poor
A healthcare provider can do the test. The test involves providing a blood sample. Tests can reveal if you currently have hepatitis A, or if you are immune to it (from a past infection or vaccination).
It is a good idea to also get tested for other sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs), including HIV, when you get tested for hepatitis A. Some STBBIs can be passed on in the same ways as hepatitis A. Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should get tested for hepatitis A and other STBBIs.
If you are diagnosed with hepatitis A, a healthcare provider will talk to you about informing your sex partners and household contacts that they might have been exposed to the virus, and encouraging them to get tested. Your identity will not be revealed.
Hepatitis A cannot be cured but most adults will recover from the infection on their own.
Once the infection clears, most people become immune from hepatitis A for life.
This information sheet was developed in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN).
Hepatitis A – CATIE fact sheet