Hepatitis A

What is Hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person.

How is Hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A is usually spread when the Hepatitis A virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces (or stool) of an infected person. A person can get Hepatitis A through:
Person to person contact
  • when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
  • when a parent or caregiver does not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person
  • when someone engages in certain sexual activities, such as oral-anal contact with an infected person
Contaminated food or water
  • Hepatitis A can be spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus. This is more likely to occur in countries where Hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. The food and drinks most likely to be contaminated are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. In the United States, chlorination of water kills Hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis A?
Although anyone can get Hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:
  • Travel to or live in countries where Hepatitis A is common
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Use illegal drugs, whether injected or not
  • Have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia
  • Live with someone who has Hepatitis A
  • Have oral-anal sexual contact with someone who has Hepatitis A
If I have had Hepatitis A in the past, can I get it again?
No. Once you recover from Hepatitis A, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it.
Can I donate blood if I have had Hepatitis A?
If you had Hepatitis A when you were 11 years of age or older, you cannot donate blood. If you had Hepatitis A before age 11, you may be able donate blood. Check with your blood donation center.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
Some people with Hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)
Can Hepatitis A be prevented?
Yes. The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination with the Hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of Hepatitis A.
What is the Hepatitis A vaccine?
The Hepatitis A vaccine is a shot of inactive Hepatitis A virus that stimulates the body's natural immune system. After the vaccine is given, the body makes antibodies that protect a person against the virus. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that is produced in response to a virus invading the body. These antibodies are then stored in the body and will fight off the infection if a person is exposed to the virus in the future.
Who should get vaccinated against Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for:
  • All children at age 1 year
  • Travelers to countries that have high rates of Hepatitis A
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs
  • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
  • People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates
  • People who work with Hepatitis A infected animals or in a Hepatitis A research laboratory
Is the Hepatitis A vaccine effective?
Yes, the Hepatitis A vaccine is highly effective in preventing Hepatitis A virus infection. Protection begins approximately 2 to 4 weeks after the first injection. A second injection results in long-term protection.
Why is the Hepatitis A vaccine recommended before traveling?
Traveling to places where Hepatitis A virus is common puts a person at high risk for Hepatitis A. The risk exists even for travelers to urban areas, those who stay in luxury hotels, and those who report that they have good hygiene and are careful about what they eat and drink. Travelers can minimize their risk by avoiding potentially contaminated water or food, such as drinking beverages (with or without ice) of unknown purity, eating uncooked shellfish, and eating uncooked fruits or vegetables that are not peeled or prepared by the traveler personally. Risk for infection increases with duration of travel and is highest for those who live in or visit rural areas, trek in back-country areas, or frequently eat or drink in settings with poor sanitation. Since a simple, safe vaccine exists, experts recommend that travelers to certain countries be vaccinated.
How soon before travel should the Hepatitis A vaccine be given?
The first dose of Hepatitis A vaccine should be given as soon as travel is planned. Two weeks or more before departure is ideal, but anytime before travel will provide some protection.
Is it harmful to have an extra dose of Hepatitis A vaccine or to repeat the entire Hepatitis A vaccine series?
No, getting extra doses of Hepatitis A vaccine is not harmful.

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