Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by viruses and can lead to serious health problems. There are several different forms of the virus but in Canada hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common. They are all contagious.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. People who become ill with hepatitis A usually have a fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), and generally feel unwell. Many infants and young children infected with hepatitis A do not have any signs of the illness. It can take between 15-50 (average 28-30) days from exposure to the virus for symptoms of hepatitis A to appear. The illness usually lasts for one to two weeks, but some people feel ill for several months. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Most people with hepatitis A recover completely. Rarely, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death, but this occurs more commonly in persons 50 years of age or older and in persons with other liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

 How is hepatitis A spread?
The Hepatitis A virus is found in stool. An infected person can pass the virus directly to others through contaminated surfaces, food, and water if they have not washed their hands properly after using the bathroom. A person may become infected by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with hepatitis A, or by having close contact, such as living in the same household or having sexual contact, with an infected person. The food and drinks most commonly associated with Hepatitis A infection include fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. A person with Hepatitis A can spread the infection to others two weeks before symptoms start, and for one week after jaundice appears.
 How can hepatitis A infection be prevented?
Hepatitis A vaccine is highly effective in preventing infection with hepatitis A and is recommended for people travelling to areas of the world where the disease is more common. Frequent hand washing with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food will help prevent transmission of hepatitis A. People infected with hepatitis A should not prepare food for others.
 What to do if you have been exposed to hepatitis A
If you have had recent close contact with a case of hepatitis A, receiving the hepatitis A vaccine may reduce the risk of illness. Close contact includes:
  • Household contact
  • Sexual contact
  • Drug sharing activities
  • Eating food prepared by an infected person
  • Working in or attending a daycare or institution where a case has been identified
Hepatitis A vaccine
  • Evidence suggests protection immediately after first dose

  • One dose will give protection for one year against hepatitis A

  • A second dose (in 6-12 months or later is still effective if given late, there is no need to restart series)

  • International travel experts agree that protections is life long after two doses.

  • The vaccine can be given during pregnancy if there is a risk of infection 

Side effects

  • Reactions are usually mild and do not last for more than 24 hours
  • Local redness and tenderness at injection sites
  • General reactions are uncommon but could include feeling unwell, fatigue, fever, nausea and loss of appetite 

Severe reactions are rare. If you develop hives, swelling of the face or mouth, trouble breathing, serious drowsiness or other serious problems seek immediate medical attention.

How can contaminated surfaces be cleaned and disinfected?

Household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) is an effective disinfectant.

  • Kitchens: Wash and rinse dishes, counters and tables with soap and water to remove food particles. Then disinfect as outlined in the chart below.
  • Bathrooms: Disinfect bathrooms and diaper change areas by using a stronger bleach solution as outlined in the chart below. Many common (non-chlorine) disinfectants do not kill hepatitis A.


Bleach Recipe Contact Time*
Food contact surfaces

Mix 1 teaspoon (4 ml) of unscented
bleach into 4 cups (1 L) of water

Air dry

Mix 4 teaspoons (20 ml) of unscented
bleach into 4 cups (1 L) of water

30 minutes
Stool or vomit contaminated surfaces

Mix 20 teaspoons (100 ml) of unscented
bleach into 4 cups (1 L) of water

10 minutes

*Contact time is the length of time a disinfectant must remain wet on a surface in order to achieve efficacy (see product label for specific time).

 Hepatitis B

How does it spread?
  • Contact with contaminated blood or bodily fluids
  • Spread through sexual activity
  • Can be passed from mother to child
  • Sharing personal items with an infected person
What are the symptoms?
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue

At least 30% of serious cases show no symptoms.

How can I protect myself?
  • Get vaccinated
  • Practice safer sex
  • Avoid sharing personal items that might be contaminated with blood
Vaccine program

The hepatitis B vaccine is available for free, to all Grade 7 students in Ontario. Public Health offers this vaccine in elementary schools across Waterloo Region.

The vaccine is recommended, but is voluntary. A consent form must be completed for your child to get the hepatitis B vaccine. The forms can be obtained by calling our Vaccine Information Line at 519-575-4400.

View the schedule to see when Public Health will be at your school.

If your child misses a vaccine, contact Public Health at 519-575-4400 to make an appointment at our Waterloo or Cambridge clinics.

Hepatitis C

How does it spread?
  • Contact with contaminated blood or bodily fluids
  • Can be passed from mother to child
  • Sharing personal items
What are the symptoms? 
  • Jaundice
  • Uneasiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue 
How can I protect myself? 
  • Avoid sharing items that may be contaminated with blood

There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C.

 Additional Resources

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