Hepatitis ACauses

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, which is spread in the poo of someone with the infection.

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.

At-risk destinations

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.

These include:

  • 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.

Page last reviewed: 10/03/2019
Next review due: 10/03/2022