“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, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.
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.
In the United States, there were an estimated 25,000 new hepatitis A virus infections in 2007. (However, the official number of reported hepatitis A cases is much lower since many people who are infected never have symptoms and are never reported to public health officials.)
Yes. Rates of hepatitis A in the United States are the lowest they have been in 40 years. The hepatitis A vaccine was introduced in 1995 and health professionals now routinely vaccinate all children, travelers to certain countries, and persons at risk for the disease. Many experts believe hepatitis A vaccination has dramatically affected rates of the disease in the United States.
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:
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, in the United States, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:
If you have any questions about potential exposure to hepatitis A, call your health professional or your local or state health department.
If you were recently exposed to hepatitis A virus and have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A, you might benefit from an injection of either immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine. However, the vaccine or immune globulin must be given within the first 2 weeks after exposure to be effective. A health professional can decide what is best on the basis of your age and overall health.
Talk to your health professional or a local health department official for guidance. Outbreaks usually result from one of two sources of contamination: an infected food handler or an infected food source. Your health department will investigate the cause of the outbreak.
Keep in mind that most people do not get sick when someone at a restaurant has hepatitis A. However, if an infected food handler is infectious and has poor hygiene, the risk goes up for patrons of that restaurant. In such cases, health officials might try to identify patrons and provide hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin if they can find them within 2 weeks of exposure.
On rare occasions, the source of the infection can be traced to contaminated food. Foods can become contaminated at any point along the process: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking. In these cases, health officials will try to determine the source of the contamination and the best ways to minimize health threats to the public.
PEP or postexposure prophylaxis refers to trying to prevent or treat a disease after someone is exposed to it.
A health professional can decide whether or not a person needs PEP after exposure to hepatitis A. People who might benefit from PEP include those who:
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.
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.
The hepatitis A virus is extremely hearty. It is able to survive the body’s highly acidic digestive tract and can live outside the body for months. High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185°F (85°C), kill the virus, although freezing temperatures do not.
Not always. Some people get hepatitis A and have no symptoms of the disease. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.
Some people with hepatitis A do not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:
If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.
Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.
Yes. Many people, especially children, have no symptoms. In addition, a person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before symptoms appear.
Almost all people who get hepatitis A recover completely and do not have any lasting liver damage, although they may feel sick for months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death, although this is rare and occurs more commonly in persons 50 years of age or older and persons with other liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or C.
A doctor can determine if you have hepatitis A by discussing your symptoms and taking a blood sample.
There are no special treatments for hepatitis A. Most people with hepatitis A will feel sick for a few months before they begin to feel better. A few people will need to be hospitalized. During this time, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids. People with hepatitis A should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, which can potentially damage the liver. Alcohol should be avoided.
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.
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.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for:
The hepatitis A vaccine is given as 2 shots, 6 months apart. The hepatitis A vaccine also comes in a combination form, containing both hepatitis A and B vaccine, that can be given to persons 18 years of age and older. This form is given as 3 shots, over a period of 6 months.
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.
Yes, the hepatitis A vaccine is safe. No serious side effects have resulted from the hepatitis A vaccine. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect reported. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that a serious problem could occur after someone gets the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with hepatitis A are much greater than the potential risks associated with the hepatitis A vaccine. Before the hepatitis A vaccine became available in the Unites States, more than 250,000 people were infected with hepatitis A virus each year. Since the licensure of the first hepatitis A vaccine in 1995, millions of doses of hepatitis A vaccine have been given in the United States and worldwide.
People who have ever had a serious allergic reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine or who are known to be allergic to any part of the hepatitis A vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies. Also, the vaccine is not licensed for use in infants under age 1 year.
Anyone traveling to or working in countries with high rates of hepatitis A should talk to a health professional about getting vaccinated. He or she is likely to recommend vaccination or a shot of immune globulin before traveling to countries in Central or South America, Mexico, and certain parts of Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
Immune globulin is a substance made from human blood plasma that contains antibodies that protect against infection. It is given as a shot and provides short-term protection (approximately 3 months) against hepatitis A. Immune globulin can be given either before exposure to the hepatitis A virus (such as before travel to a country where hepatitis A is common) or to prevent infection after exposure to the hepatitis A virus. Immune globulin must be given within 2 weeks after exposure for the best protection.
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.
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.
Experts now say that the first dose of hepatitis A vaccine can be given at any time before departure. This will provide some protection for most healthy persons.
Hepatitis A vaccine will only protect someone from hepatitis A. A separate vaccine is available for hepatitis B. There is also a combination vaccine that protects a person from hepatitis A and hepatitis B. No vaccine is available for hepatitis C at this time.
Yes. Because hepatitis A vaccine is inactivated (not “live”), it can be given to people with compromised immune systems.
No, getting extra doses of hepatitis A vaccine is not harmful.
The second or last dose should be given by a health professional as soon as possible. The first dose does not need to be given again.
Speak with your health professional or call your local public health department. Some clinics offering free or low-cost vaccines for adults are listed at www.hepclinics.com and for children at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/parents/where-get-vaccs.htm.
*cited from cdc.gov