Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is spread from one person to another when the feces (shit) of someone with the virus gets into another person's mouth. There are a number of ways that this can happen:
- Eating food – particularly food that is raw or not thoroughly cooked (shellfish, for example) – that has been handled or prepared by someone who has hepatitis A.
- Drinking water or ice that is contaminated with feces.
- Engaging in oral-anal sex ("rimming") with someone who has hepatitis A.
- Rarely, HAV can also be spread through blood-to-blood exposure (sharing intravenous drug injection equipment, for example).
Hepatitis A is an acute form of hepatitis, meaning that it does not cause long-term (chronic) infection. If you have had hepatitis A once, you cannot be infected with the virus again. However, you can still be infected with other hepatitis viruses (hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus, for example).
People with HIV are not at greater risk of becoming infected with HAV than anyone else. However, some studies suggest that people with HIV are more likely to experience prolonged symptoms of hepatitis A, meaning that it might take longer for someone who is HIV-positive to recover fully from hepatitis A.
Another important issue to consider is that many people with HIV are taking anti-HIV medications that can be toxic to the liver. Some of these medications can make symptoms of hepatitis A worse. In turn, it might be necessary to stop all anti-HIV medications until the hepatitis A has run its course or until liver enzyme levels have returned to normal. If you are HIV-positive, are taking anti-HIV medications, and develop hepatitis A, do not stop your anti-HIV medications without first discussing it with your doctor.