For health professionals: Hepatitis A
Find detailed information on hepatitis A for health professionals.
On this page
- What health professionals need to know about hepatitis A
- Clinical manifestations
- Prevention and control
- Hepatitis A surveillance in Canada
- For more information
What health professionals need to know about hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus is a member of the Picornaviridae family and Hepatovirus genus. It is an icosahedral, non-enveloped, positive-sense ribonucleic acid virus.
There have been 7 hepatitis A genotypes identified (I-VII), 4 of which are of human origin (I, II, III and VII).
Hepatitis A only causes acute hepatitis and is not associated with chronic liver disease. However, individuals with pre-existing liver disease may suffer severe complications.
Most individuals infected with hepatitis A develop non-specific constitutional signs and symptoms followed by gastrointestinal symptoms.
The disease course typically lasts less than 2 months.
In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause severe cases of fulminant hepatitis with fatal outcomes in otherwise healthy adults.
A number of techniques have been employed to detect hepatitis A virus, including:
- dot-blot gold filtration
- real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
- enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA)
Vaccination can prevent the onset of symptoms in those exposed if given within 2 weeks of exposure.
No specific treatment for hepatitis A virus infection has been shown to be effective.
However, the following treatments are recommended:
- bed rest
- balanced nutrition
- avoidance of alcohol or other hepatotoxins
Prevention and control
Hepatitis A is one of the most common vaccine-preventable illnesses in travellers. The vaccine is recommended for persons 1 year of age and older who are at increased risk of:
- severe hepatitis A
All persons who wish to decrease their risk of becoming infected with the hepatitis A virus should be vaccinated. Hepatitis A vaccines have demonstrated at least 90% to 97% effectiveness in preventing clinical illness.
In particular, the following groups are recommended to be vaccinated for hepatitis A prevention:
- travellers to or immigrants from hepatitis A-endemic areas
- household or close contacts of children adopted from hepatitis A-endemic countries
- populations or communities at risk of hepatitis A outbreaks or in which hepatitis A is highly endemic
- for example, some Indigenous communities
- military personnel and humanitarian relief workers likely to be posted to areas with high rates of hepatitis A
Additional at-risk groups recommended to be vaccinated include:
- persons with lifestyle risks for infection, including:
- men who have sex with men
- those who use illicit drugs (injectable and non-injectable)
- zoo keepers, veterinarians and researchers who handle non-human primates
- people with hemophilia A or B receiving plasma-derived replacement clotting factors
- workers involved in research on the hepatitis A virus or the production of the hepatitis A vaccine
- persons who have chronic liver disease from any cause, including persons infected with hepatitis B or C
- these persons may be at risk of more severe disease if infection occurs
Hepatitis A surveillance in Canada
You must report hepatitis A cases to your local medical officer of health.
Health professionals in Canada play a critical role in identifying and reporting cases of hepatitis A. Refer to the surveillance section for more information on surveillance in Canada.
Consult the national case definition for additional information.
For more information
- Canadian Immunization Guide: Hepatitis A vaccine
- Hepatitis A virus: Pathogen safety data sheet – Infectious substances
- Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel
- 'Statement on Hepatitis Vaccines for Travellers'
- 'Summary of Recommendations for the Prevention of Viral Hepatitis During Travel'
- Canada Communicable Disease Report
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