Also Known As
HAV-Ab IgM
HAV-Ab IgG
HAV-Ab total
Anti-HAV
Formal Name
Viral Hepatitis A Antibody
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
April 24, 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose the cause of acute hepatitis; as part of a viral hepatitis panel to identify the type of hepatitis virus causing an infection; sometimes to evaluate the need for the hepatitis A vaccine

When To Get Tested?

When you have symptoms of an acute hepatitis infection, such as jaundice, or when you may have been exposed to hepatitis A virus (HAV)

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

None

You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory's website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Lab Tests Online. You may have been directed here by your lab's website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab's website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Lab Tests Online is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called "normal" values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are "within normal limits."

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is one of several various causes of hepatitis, a condition characterized by inflammation and enlargement of the liver. This test detects antibodies in the blood that are produced by the immune system in response to a hepatitis A infection.

Hepatitis A is one of five "hepatitis viruses" identified so far, including B, C, D, and E, that are known to cause the disease. While hepatitis A can cause a severe, acute disease that typically lasts 1 to 2 months, it does not cause a chronic infection as do some of the other hepatitis viruses.

Hepatitis A is spread, most commonly, from person-to person through stool (fecal) contamination or by ingesting food or water contaminated by the stool of an infected person (a foodborne illness). Recognized risk factors for hepatitis A include close contact with an infected person, international travel, household or personal contact with a child who attends a child care center, household or personal contact with a newly arriving international adoptee, a recognized foodborne outbreak, men who have sex with men, and use of illegal drugs.

Although there are many causes of hepatitis, the symptoms remain the same. In hepatitis, the liver is damaged and unable to function normally. It cannot process toxins or waste products such as bilirubin for their removal from the body. During the course of the disease, bilirubin and liver enzyme levels in the blood can increase. While tests such as bilirubin or a liver panel can tell a health practitioner that someone has hepatitis, they do not identify the cause. Antibody tests for hepatitis viruses may help determine the cause.

There are two different classes of hepatitis A antibody that may be tested, IgM and IgG. When a person is exposed to hepatitis A, the body first produces hepatitis A IgM antibodies. These antibodies typically develop 2 to 3 weeks after first being infected (and are detectable before the onset of symptoms) and persist for about 3 to 6 months. Hepatitis A IgG antibodies are produced within 1 to 2 weeks of the IgM antibodies and usually persist for life.

  • Because hepatitis A IgM antibodies develop early in the course of infection, a positive hepatitis A IgM test is usually considered diagnostic for a current or recent infection of hepatitis A. This test may be done as part of an acute viral hepatitis panel used to determine which virus is causing symptoms when viral hepatitis is suspected.
  • An HAV IgG test may be used to help determine if a person has been infected in the past and has some immunity to the disease.
  • A total hepatitis A antibody test detects the presence of both the IgM and IgG antibodies, thus can identify current and past infections.

A vaccine that prevents hepatitis A has been available since 1995. Historically, infection rates varied cyclically, with nationwide increases every 10-15 years. However, rates have declined in general since the vaccine was introduced. In 2010, the number of acute hepatitis A cases reported nationwide declined by approximately 53% from about 3,600 in 2006.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    This test is used to help diagnose a liver infection due to the hepatitis A virus (HAV). There are several causes of hepatitis and the accompanying symptoms, so this test may be used to determine if the symptoms are due to hepatitis A.

    A few different versions of the test may be used to detect different classes of hepatitis A antibodies.

    • The HAV IgM antibody test detects the first antibody produced by the body when it is exposed to hepatitis A. This test is used to detect early or recent infections and to diagnose the disease in people with symptoms of acute hepatitis. It may be performed as part of an acute viral hepatitis panel.
    • The HAV IgG test detects the IgG antibodies that develop later in the course of the disease. IgG antibodies remain present for many years, usually for life, providing protection against recurrent infection by the same virus. The IgG test is used to detect past HAV infections and may occasionally be used to determine if an individual has developed immunity from a previous infection (immune status), in which case a vaccine is not necessary.
    • The total HAV antibody test detects both IgM and IgG antibodies and thus may be used to identify both current and past infections. This test will also be positive after receiving the vaccine, so sometimes it may be used to determine whether a person has developed immunity after vaccination, though this practice is not advised. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) state that "post-vaccination testing is not indicated because of the high rate of vaccine response among adults and children. In addition, not all testing methods approved for routine diagnostic use in the United States have the sensitivity to detect low anti-HAV concentrations after vaccination."

    In acute hepatitis, other tests such as bilirubin, liver panel, ALT, and AST may be performed with viral hepatitis tests to help diagnose the condition.

  • When is it ordered?

    Testing for the presence of IgM antibodies to hepatitis A is ordered when someone has acute symptoms such as:

    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
    • Dark urine and/or pale colored stool
    • Joint pain
    • Jaundice

    In some people and in many young children, hepatitis A may not cause any symptoms. Children infected by HAV often have very mild symptoms, such as fever and diarrhea, and are often thought to have "flu."

    An HAV test may also be ordered when a person is likely to have been exposed to the virus regardless of whether symptoms are present or not.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Results of hepatitis testing may indicate the following:

    HAV IgM HAV IgG or Total Antibody (IgM and IgG) Results Indicate
    Positive Not Performed Acute or recent HAV infection
    Negative Positive No active infection but previous HAV exposure; has developed immunity to HAV or recently vaccinated for HAV
    Not Performed Positive Has been exposed to HAV but does not rule out acute infection
    Not Performed Negative No current or previous HAV infection; vaccine may be recommended if at risk

    A total antibody test detects both IgM and IgG antibodies but does not distinguish between them.

    If the total antibody test or hepatitis A IgG result is positive and someone has never been vaccinated against HAV, then the person has had past exposure to the virus. About 30% of adults over age 40 have antibodies to hepatitis A.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    Hepatitis A vaccines are effective even when administered up to 15 days after exposure to the virus. Infants, immunocompromised people, people with chronic liver disease, or adults over 40 may be given an injection of immune globulin instead of the vaccine for post-exposure protection.

    Although hepatitis A IgM antibodies are considered diagnostic for acute infection with hepatitis A, there has been increasing use of the test in people who do not have signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that the test only be used for persons who clinically have acute hepatitis to decrease the possibility of falsely positive results.

  • How could I have gotten the virus without knowing it?

    The virus is passed through contact with stool (fecal matter) from an infected person, typically via contaminated food or water. If a person infected with HAV does not wash their hands after using the bathroom, that person can pass the virus by handling raw fruits and vegetables consumed by others, or directly through person to person contact. You can also contract the virus by eating raw or improperly cooked seafood that had fed in contaminated waters. You may also contract the virus through sexual contact with someone who is infected but asymptomatic.

  • If I have hepatitis A, how long will I be contagious?

    According to the World Health Organization, you can spread the disease to others roughly 1 to 3 weeks before symptoms, such as jaundice, begin to appear. Symptoms typically develop within 4 weeks but can appear any time between 2 and 6 weeks after you are first infected. You can continue to be contagious, but less so, for several weeks after jaundice develops.

  • How is hepatitis A treated?

    There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Mild forms of the disease usually resolve on their own and leave no lasting damage to the liver. The focus is usually on supportive therapy, making sure you are getting enough fluids and nutrition by eating and drinking small amounts several times a day. In rare cases, fulminant hepatitis, a life-threatening form that causes liver failure, requires hospitalization. Hepatitis A tends to be more severe in the elderly and in those who also have chronic liver disease, so person with acute hepatitis A in those settings should be watched more closely.

  • Is there a way to prevent hepatitis A?

    Yes. There is a vaccine available. It is recommended that all children be vaccinated at age one year. Any children ages 2-18 who did not receive the vaccine at age one should also receive the vaccine. It is also recommended for people who are at an increased risk of exposure to the virus, such as:

    • People traveling to developing countries with a high rate of hepatitis A
    • Illegal drug users
    • Men who have sex with men

    The vaccine is also recommended for those who are at a greater risk for complications from the disease, including people with chronic liver disease and those who have damage to their liver from some other cause.

    If it is known that you were exposed to the hepatitis A virus, you may be given the vaccine to prevent the disease.

    Hepatitis A can also be prevented with good hygiene. This includes washing hands well after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, and before eating or starting any food preparation.

  • If I have had a hepatitis A infection, can I get it again?

    No, once you have had the disease and develop the IgG class of antibodies, they will provide immunity for the rest of your life.

View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FAQs for Health Professionals: Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HAV/HAVfaq.htm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed July 27, 2013.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics and Surveillance: Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2010surveillance/Commentary.htm#analysesI through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed July 27, 2013.

Mayo Clinic. Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-a/DS00397 through http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed July 27, 2013.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Viral Hepatitis: A through E and Beyond. Available online at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/viralhepatitis/index.aspx#hepa through http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed July 27, 2013.

Fischbach, F.T. (2004). A Manual of Laboratory & Diagnostic Tests. 7th Edition., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia.

(August 29, 2013) Gilroy R. Hepatitis A. Medscape Reference article. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/177484-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed August 2013.

(May 19, 2006) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention of Hepatitis A Through Active or Passive Immunization. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR 55(RR07);1-23. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5507a1.htm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed August 2013.

Fiore AF, Wasley A, Bell, BP. Prevention of Hepatitis A Through Active or Passive Immunization. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR 2006;55(RR07);1-23.

(Updated Apr 11, 2013) Virginia Department of Public Health. Hepatitis A Factsheet. Available online at http://www.vdh.state.va.us/Epidemiology/factsheets/Hepatitis_A.htm through http://www.vdh.state.va.us. Accessed February 2014.

(©2014) World Health Organization. Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/whocdscsredc2007/en/index1.html through http://www.who.int. Accessed February 2014.

Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. McPherson R, Pincus M, eds. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier: 2011, Pp 305, 1058-1059.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Clinical Chemistry: Principles, Procedures, Correlations. Michael L. Bishop, Janet L. Duben-Engelkirk, Edward P. Fody. Lipincott Williams & Wilkins, 4th Edition.

(Update August 21, 2009) Lehrer J. Hepatitis A. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000278.htm. Accessed August 2009.

(Updated June 13, 2008) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FAQs for Health Professionals, Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HAV/HAVfaq.htm#general through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed August 2009.

(June 24, 2008) CDC. Statistics and Surveillance, Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/Statistics.htm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed September 2009.

(Sep. 5, 2009) Mayo Clinic Staff. Hepatitis A. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-a/DS00397 through http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed September 2009.

Forbes BA, Sahm DF, Weissfeld AS. Bailey & Scott's Diagnostic Microbiology 12th Edition: Mosby Elevier, St. Louis, MO; 2007, Pp 764-765.

(Updated February 2009) American Academy of Family Physicians. Hepatitis A. Available online at http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/hepatitis/897.html through http://familydoctor.org. Accessed August 2009.

Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics. Burtis CA, Ashwood ER and Bruns DE, eds. 4th ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Saunders; 2006, Pp 1804-1805.

Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. McPherson RA and Pincus MR, eds. Philadelphia: 2007, Pp 271.

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