Hepatitis A Virus: Definition, Transmission & Contagious Period

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that attacks the liver and causes inflammation. Read this lesson to learn about modes of transmission and the incubation period of this virus.

Caring for Those in Need

Nick is a senior nursing student volunteering his time at a local homeless shelter. Helping out in the nurse's office at the shelter has exposed him to many needs of his community, for which he is grateful. Although he is not yet an expert, Nick is diligent in looking up information when he is unfamiliar with a patient condition or diagnosis.

As he continues to volunteer at the shelter once a week, Nick notices one particular man who visits regularly with the nurse. Upon reading the patient's chart, Nick finds that the patient is recovering from the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Unsure what HAV is, Nick begins his research before asking the nurse a few questions.

What is the Hepatitis A Virus?

Hepatitis A virus is an infection that attacks the liver, an organ that controls proper blood clotting and critical metabolic processes within the body. The virus causes inflammation, swelling and irritation, of the organ. HAV can cause the following symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms: achiness, fatigue, fever
  • Jaundice: yellowing of the skin and eyes generally indicating some form of liver disease

Symptoms are more likely to develop in the adult population, although symptoms may not appear in all infected individuals. Treatment is focused on symptom management, as viral infections cannot be cured with antibiotics. Nick realizes the patient's symptoms are the reason for the recurring visits.

How is the Hepatitis A Virus Transmitted?

After the patient leaves, Nick and the nurse discuss possible ways in which HAV can be transmitted, or passed from one individual to another. Contact with or ingestion of infected feces or stool transmits HAV. Nick learns this patient had acquired HAV from caring for a sick friend who was infected with the virus; intimate contact with infected individuals places caregivers at high risk for transmission.

The nurse teaches Nick common ways that HAV is transmitted:

  • Contaminated water: dirty or unfiltered drinking water contaminated with infected feces
  • Unsanitary sewage: unregulated or undermanaged disposal of waste
  • Dirty fruits and vegetables
  • Intimate contact with an infected individual through sex or caregiving


HAV is prevalent and common in areas that are still undergoing economic development. As a result, waterways, sewage systems, and laws may not be in place to protect people from contracting the virus. Some African countries, as well as India, have the highest rates of HAV transmission.

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