It takes two to six weeks for symptoms of hepatitis A to develop after coming into contact with the virus (the incubation period).
The average incubation period is around four weeks.
During the initial stage of hepatitis A (known as the prodromal phase), symptoms are similar to flu and include:
- mild fever – usually no higher than 39.5ºC (103.1ºF)
- feeling sick or being sick
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
- joint and muscle pain
- abdominal pain
Other symptoms at this stage can include a headache, cough, constipation, diarrhoea or a skin rash. If you smoke, you may find you lose your taste for tobacco during this time.
Around 10 days after initial symptoms begin you will probably experience symptoms directly related to your liver (known as the icteric phase).
- jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes
- passing dark urine and pale stools
- itchy skin
- your liver being swollen and tender
At this stage the initial symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea, may improve.
It is likely you will completely recover within a couple of months, although a small number of people have a return of symptoms (relapses). In a small number of cases, symptoms may persist for up to six months.
Once you have recovered from hepatitis A, you are normally immune from it and should never catch the virus again.
When to seek medical advice
You should always contact your GP if you think you have hepatitis A, particularly in the following circumstances:
- you have recently travelled to a part of the world known to have high rates of hepatitis A, such as Africa, India or Pakistan – the incubation period can be up to six weeks, so it may have been a couple of months since your trip
- you develop jaundice
While hepatitis A is not usually a serious illness, it is important to get it properly diagnosed in case your symptoms are the result of a more serious condition, such as hepatitis C (a more serious type of viral infection) or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
Also, it may be necessary to test your friends, family and any sexual partners in case you have spread the infection to them.