Hepatitis A, one of three of the most common forms of hepatitis, is generally a mild infection, especially in children. That is, while hepatitis A can last for up to six months, it is usually over in a matter of six to eight weeks, and there are typically no lasting effects.
In children, especially those under age six, there may be no symptoms of hepatitis A. If there are, they will generally be mild and flu-like, and therefore easy to miss. Only in very rare instances will hepatitis A result in a liver so damaged that a child must undergo a liver transplant.
In adults, the symptoms of hepatitis A can be more pronounced, and include muscle weakness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, fever, dark urine, pale stools and a yellowish cast to the skin and eyes known as jaundice.
Hepatitis A symptoms usually appear from four to six weeks after contracting the virus. Individuals who think they may have contracted hepatitis A, but as yet have no symptoms, can receive a dose of the hepatitis A vaccine even after onset or a medicine called hepatitis A immune globulin, which is made from the antibodies in human plasma and concentrated.
Even where no medicine is provided, about 85 percent of hepatitis A sufferers recover fully within six months. The remaining 15 percent may experience ongoing symptoms, or relapses, for up to nine months. Out of more than 180,000 reported cases of hepatitis A in the U.S. each year (33 percent of them among children aged 7 to 15), only about 100 are fatal.
Older people, or those with compromised immune systems or ongoing health problems, may take longer to recover. Some may even require extended hospitalization. Adults in recovery should avoid drinking alcohol and taking over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen, as both make the liver more susceptible to failure.
Unlike other forms of hepatitis, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease. Once a person has had hepatitis A, they are immune for life.