Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, which is spread in the poo of someone with the infection.
Most infections occur in parts of the world where sanitation and food hygiene standards are poor, although there's a small risk of becoming infected in the UK.
How hepatitis A is spread
You can get hepatitis A from:
- eating food prepared by someone with the infection who has not washed their hands properly, or who's washed them in water contaminated with sewage
- drinking contaminated water, including ice cubes
- eating raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated water
- close contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- having sex with someone who has the infection, particularly if you touch their anus with your fingers, mouth or tongue
- injecting drugs using equipment contaminated with the hepatitis A virus
Someone with hepatitis A is most infectious from around 2 weeks before they start to develop symptoms until about a week afterwards.
Hepatitis A is found worldwide, but areas where it's most widespread include:
- sub-Saharan and northern Africa
- the Indian subcontinent (particularly India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal)
- some parts of the Far East (excluding Japan)
- the Middle East
- South and Central America
To find out about the potential health risks in a specific country, see country information on the Travel Health Pro website.
People at risk of hepatitis A in the UK
Although the chances of getting hepatitis A in the UK are much smaller than in other parts of the world, certain groups have an increased risk.
- close contacts of someone with hepatitis A
- men who have sex with other men
- people who inject illegal drugs
- people who may be exposed to hepatitis A through their job – this includes sewage workers, people who work for organisations where levels of personal hygiene may be poor, such as a homeless shelter, and people working with monkeys, apes and gorillas (these animals may be infected with hepatitis A)
People in these groups are usually advised to have the hepatitis A vaccine to minimise their risk of infection.