What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Most commonly, hepatitis A causes a mild illness that resolves on its own within 1-2 weeks; however, in some cases, it may cause a more severe illness that can last several months.1-3


How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is usually transmitted from person to person by the faecal-oral route. This may occur either through the consumption of contaminated food and water, or through direct contact with other people, including through sexual activity (particularly digito-anal, genito-oral and oro-anal sex).2

While hepatitis A is uncommon in the UK, certain groups are at increased risk of infection, including men who have sex with men.4


What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Symptoms of hepatitis A usually appear within 4 weeks following infection, although not everyone will experience them. Symptoms may include:1-4

  • A raised temperature
  • Feeling generally unwell and tired
  • Pain in the muscles and joints
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine and pale faeces
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (juandice)
  • Itchy skin


For most people, symptoms will usually improve within 2 months with no long-term side effects. From some (fewer than 1 in every 7 people), symptoms may persist for up to 6 months before full recovery.4

In rare cases, hepatitis A infection may cause more severe illness with debilitating symptoms, and occasionally (fewer than 1 in every 250 people) liver failure, which may be fatal.1-4


Increasing cases of hepatitis A in men who have sex with men

Men who have sex with men may be at increased risk of hepatitis A infection.2 Since 2005, numerous European countries have reported outbreaks of hepatitis A infection in this community.1

Between June 2016 and May 2017 alone, 17 European countries reported 4,096 cases of hepatitis A. Among the confirmed cases (1,400) with available background data, 84% identified as men who have sex with men.2

    The risk of hepatitis A infection may be increased as a consequence of unprotected sex with multiple partners.2



    • 1. Sexual Wellbeing. Hepatitis A in MSM. https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/sexually-transmitted-infections/types-of-stis/hepatitis-a-in-msm.html. [Last accessed April 2021]..
    • 2. Ndumbi P, et al. Euro Surveil. 2018;23(33):1700641..
    • 3. Green book. Chapter 17. Hepatitis A. December 2013. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263309/Green_Book_Chapter_17_v2_0.pdf. [Last accessed April 2021.
    • 4. NHS. Overview. Hepatitis A. 11 March 2019. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-a/. [Last accessed April 2021].

    Date of preparation: November 2021 | MAT-GB-2101309(v1.0)