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Hepatitis A in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection. HAV is almost always spread through bowel movement contamination. HAV infection can be prevented with 2 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccine should be given routinely between 12 and 23 months of age. It can be given at other ages, if needed. Your child's healthcare provider can give you information about the vaccine and tell you when your child should get it.

Abdominal Organs

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis A?

Your child may have no symptoms. Symptoms usually begin between 28 to 30 days after exposure to HAV, but it may be up to 50 days. Your child may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Low fever, usually under 100.4°F (38°C)
  • Dark urine or pale bowel movements
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Pain in the right upper side of his or her abdomen
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) and itchy skin

How is hepatitis A diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's signs and symptoms. Tell him or her about any health problems your child has. Tell the provider if your child has hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or another liver disease. He or she may ask if your adolescent drinks alcohol or uses any illegal drugs. Blood tests are used to show if your child is infected with HAV and to check his or her liver function.

How is hepatitis A treated?

Usually your child will be treated at home. Medicine may not be needed. If your child vomits a lot, he or she may need to go to the hospital to get fluids through an IV. Rest and healthy food will help your child get better.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to help my child manage hepatitis A?

  • Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and fish. Your child's healthcare provider or dietitian may recommend that you limit protein foods such as milk, fish, meat, and fatty foods. Protein and fat make your child's liver work harder. As he or she feels better, you can add other kinds of foods.
    Healthy Foods
  • Talk to your adolescent about not drinking alcohol. Alcohol can increase liver damage. Talk to your healthcare provider if your adolescent drinks alcohol and needs help to stop.
  • Have your child drink more liquids. Liquids help your child's liver function properly. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Have your child rest more. Your child needs to rest when he or she is tired. Have your child slowly return to usual activities when he or she feels better.

How is HAV spread?

  • Food handlers with HAV did not wash their hands after they used the bathroom.
  • Drinking water that was not clean or eating raw shellfish that came from water that was not clean.
  • Travel to an area in the world where hepatitis A is common or has an active outbreak.
  • Daycare workers did not wash their hands after they changed a diaper.
  • Sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A, especially males who have sex with other males.

How can I help prevent the spread of HAV?

Your child is most contagious in the 2 weeks before and the first week after he or she becomes jaundiced. Your child's friends and family members may need to get the hepatitis A vaccine. If your adolescent is sexually active, his or her sex partner may also need to get the vaccine. After a person has hepatitis A, it is too late to get the vaccine. The following are ways to prevent the spread of HAV:

  • Do not let your child share dishes or utensils. Soak dishes and utensils in boiling water. Then wash them, or use a dishwasher. You may want to use disposable dishes.
  • Do not let your child prepare food or meals for other people.
  • Wash clothing and bedding in the hottest water setting.
  • Clean toilets with a product that kills germs.
  • Let your healthcare provider know if your adolescent's work involves preparing or serving food, or close physical contact with other people. If he or she does this kind of work, the health department will need to evaluate if these people have been exposed to hepatitis A. Your child cannot return to work until your healthcare provider says it is safe.

How can I prevent the spread of germs?

  • Keep your child away from other people while he or she is sick. This is especially important during the 2 weeks before and the first week after he or she becomes jaundiced. The virus is most contagious during this time.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use hand sanitizer with alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Remind your child to cover a sneeze or cough. Show your child how to use a tissue to cover his or her mouth and nose. Have your child throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Then your child should wash his or her hands well or use a hand sanitizer. Show your child how to use the bend of his or her arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Tell your child not to share items. Examples include toys, drinks, and food.
  • Ask about vaccines your child needs. Vaccines help prevent some infections that cause disease. Have your child get a yearly flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually starting in September or October. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you other vaccines your child should get, and when to get them.
    Recommended Immunization Schedule 2022

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has severe abdominal pain.
  • Your child is too dizzy to stand up.
  • Your child vomits blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your child's bowel movements are red or black, and sticky.
  • Your child is confused, unusually sleepy, irritable, or jittery.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child is vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • Your child is bruising easily.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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