Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects the liver. The virus causes the liver damage. Liver function is reduced. Waste that is normally eliminated by the liver builds up in the blood. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, usually results.
Hepatitis A is passed from person to person through contact with infected stool. You can get the virus from an infected child by changing a diaper or by having sexual contact with an infected person. Contaminated food and water can also spread the virus.
The virus is very common in developing countries. It also occurs in the United States.
If you have been in contact with the virus and have not been vaccinated, a shot of the vaccine or immune globulin can prevent you from getting sick. It can also prevent you from spreading the virus. Either shot should be given as soon as possible.
If you do get sick, usually symptoms will resolve after rest, drinking plenty of fluids. You should also avoid medication that can damage the liver and alcohol.
At times, people with hepatitis A need to be hospitalized. Rarely, the infection can be fatal if the liver is severely damaged.
The vaccine contains an inactivated form of the hepatitis A virus. It is given as an injection in the arm.
A combined vaccine that protects against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B is also available.
The vaccine is recommended for all children aged 12-23 months. The 2 doses of the series are given 6-18 months apart. Children who have not been vaccinated can receive the shot at their next doctor's visit.
The following people should also get vaccinated:
In general, people who are traveling should get the first dose at least one month before leaving the US. Getting the vaccine anytime before traveling may also result in some protection.
There is a very small risk of severe allergic reaction, with symptoms such as:
Moderate side effects include:
The following people should not get vaccinated:
American Liver Foundation
Hepatitis Foundation International
Canadian Institute for Health Information
Canadian Liver Foundation
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 8, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2015.
Hepatitis A FAQ's for health professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HAV/HAVfaq.htm. Updated June 6, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2015.
Hepatitis A information for health professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HAV/index.htm. Updated April 14, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2015.
Hepatitis A virus vaccine inactivated. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2015.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html. Updated January 26, 2015. Accessed February 4, 2015.
Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
9/25/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http//www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Updated recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for use of hepatitis A vaccine in close contacts of newly arriving international adoptees. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2009;58:1006.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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