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Hepatitis A in Children


What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection.

Abdominal Organs

How is HAV spread?

HAV is almost always spread through bowel movement contamination. The following are some ways HAV is spread:

  • Food handlers with HAV did not wash their hands after they used the bathroom.
  • Your child drank water that was not clean or ate raw shellfish that came from water that was not clean.
  • Your child traveled to areas in the world where hepatitis A is common.
  • Daycare workers did not wash their hands after they changed a diaper.
  • Your adolescent had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.

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 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.

What can I do to 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.
  • 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 can I 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 your and your child's hands well before you eat and after you use the bathroom or change a child's diaper.
  • 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.

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 contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • 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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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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