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Hepatitis A Vaccine

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"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.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated.

 

What is hepatitis A?

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.

Statistics

How common is hepatitis A in the United States?

In the United States, there were an estimated 32,000 new hepatitis A virus infections in 2006. (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.)

Is hepatitis A decreasing in the United States?

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.

Transmission / Exposure

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.

 

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.

How long does hepatitis A virus survive outside the body?

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.

Symptoms

Does hepatitis A cause symptoms?

Not always. Some people get hepatitis A and have no symptoms of the disease. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.

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)
How soon after exposure to hepatitis A will symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

How long do hepatitis A symptoms last?

Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

Can a person spread hepatitis A without having symptoms?

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.

How serious is hepatitis A?

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."

 

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