is a viral infection that strikes 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.
- Abdominal pain or soreness
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
If you have been in contact with the virus and have not been vaccinated, a shot of the vaccine or immune globulin (IG) 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
is also available.
The vaccine is recommended for all children aged 12-23 months. The two 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:
- Children aged 24 months or older who are at high risk and have not been previously vaccinated.
People traveling to areas where hepatitis A is prevalent. The CDC's
Traveler's Health website
shows which areas have high rates hepatitis A.
- Men who have sex with men.
- Injection drug users.
- People who are at risk because of their job.
- People with chronic liver disease.
- People treated with clotting factor concentrates.
- People who will have close contact with an adopted child from a medium- or high-risk area.
- People who want immunity to hepatitis A.
In general, people who are traveling should get the first dose at least one month before leaving the United States. 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:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash
- Rapid heartbeat
Moderate side effects include:
- Soreness at the site of injection
- Loss of appetite
The following people should not get vaccinated:
- Children under one year of age
- Anyone who has already had hepatitis A
- Anyone who has previously had a severe allergic reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine
- Anyone who has previously had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the hepatitis A vaccine, (including alum or 2-phenoxyethanol)
- Anyone who is very ill
- Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the restroom or changing a diaper.
- IG given before and after exposure is another way of preventing and treating the virus.
is another vaccine that protects against both hepatitis A and B.
If a food-borne outbreak occurs, the source of the contaminated food will be identified and eliminated. In any hepatitis A outbreak, the affected community will get vaccinated to prevent the virus from spreading.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Hepatitis A. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated December 19, 2012. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Hepatitis A FAQ's for health professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
. Updated November 23, 2010. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Hepatitis A Information for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
. Updated November 23, 2010. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Hepatitis A Virus Vaccine Inactivated. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
. Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010.
9/25/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: 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 May 2013 by Brian Randall, 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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