Hepatitis A Prevention
The ADH is responding to an outbreak in Northeast Arkansas. To learn more about this outbreak and guidance issued by ADH, you can find the press releases here.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).
How is hepatitis A spread?
It is transmitted person-to-person when a person ingests tiny amounts of fecal matter from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person. It can also be spread from close personal contact with an infected person, for example, through sex or caring for someone who is ill.
Food contamination by hepatitis A can happen at any point – growing, harvesting, processing, handling or even after cooking. However, the CDC states food or water contamination is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is more common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. In the United States, chlorination of water kills HAV that enters the water supply, and the Food and Drug Administration routinely monitors natural bodies of water used for recreation.
How great is the risk for hepatitis A?
In 2016, the CDC reported there were an estimated 4,000 hepatitis A cases in the United States. The number of cases has declined by more than 95 percent since the Hepatitis A vaccine became available in 1995.
While anyone can get hepatitis A, in the United States, the CDC cautions the follow groups of people are at a higher risk:
- People who have direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
- Household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis is common
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
If you have hepatitis A, you may have:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored feces
- Joint pain
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (known as jaundice)
Older children and adults typically have symptoms that can appear to develop abruptly. Most children younger than age 6 do not have symptoms and, when symptoms are presents, young children typically do not have jaundice.
Symptoms may appear within two to seven weeks, although typically symptoms start to show four weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually last less than two months, but about 10 to 15 percent of people can have symptoms last as long as six months.
An infected person can pass the virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms appear.
What steps can you take to prevent hepatitis A?
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by practicing good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food – and through vaccination.
The hepatitis A vaccine is safe, effective and given as two shots, six months apart. Both shots are needed for long-term protection. It can be given to people with compromised immune systems, and getting extra doses of the vaccine is not harmful.
The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for school children. As of 2014, one dose of the vaccine is required for entry into kindergarten and first grade. Most adults are likely not vaccinated, unless they received vaccinations prior to traveling internationally.
The vaccine will only protect you against hepatitis A. There is a separate vaccine available for hepatitis B, although there is a combination hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine that can be given to anyone age 18 or older. This combination vaccine is given as three shots over six months. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C at this time.
What should you do if you suspect exposure to hepatitis A?
People who believe they have been exposed to hepatitis A should contact a health professional or their local health unit if they have never been vaccinated against hepatitis A or are unsure of their vaccination status. A blood test is available for hepatitis A screening.
Even after exposure, a person can effectively prevent getting hepatitis A if he or she receives the hepatitis A vaccine or an immune globulin injection, which contains antibodies to hepatitis A, within two weeks of exposure. If illness does occur, it will usually be milder after receiving immune globulin.
What if you have hepatitis A?
There are no specific treatments once a person gets hepatitis A. Doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluids to treat symptoms, although some people will need additional medical care at a hospital.
The disease can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although rare, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death in some people. This is more common in people who are at least 50 years old and in people with other liver diseases.
Once you recover from hepatitis A, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life.
|CDC Hepatitis A Fact Sheet|
|CDC Hepatitis A Information|
|CDC Patient Education Resources|