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Hepatitis A and HIV/AIDS

October 24, 2015

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Hepatitis A and HIV/AIDS

Table of Contents

What Is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the liver. Alcohol, drugs (including prescription medications), poisons, and some viruses can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).

Worldwide, Hepatitis A outbreaks tend to occur every now and then and are often related to contaminated food or water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.4 million people become infected with HAV each year.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of hepatitis A in the US have dropped 95 percent since the hepatitis A vaccine was introduced in 1995. Nevertheless, in the US, almost 100 people die each year from complications of HAV (e.g., liver failure). People at the highest risk of death from HAV include those with existing liver disease and people over the age of 60.

Hepatitis A does not cause chronic (long-term) illness like hepatitis B and hepatitis C do, and most people who get HAV can expect a full recovery.

There is very little specific information available regarding the effect of hepatitis A on women living with HIV (HIV+). However, research involving men living with HIV suggests that it may take longer for people living with HIV to recover from HAV. Having HAV does not increase a person's chance of getting HIV.


How Is Hepatitis A Spread?

Hepatitis A is transmitted or spread when you take something into your mouth that has been contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person. This could be by consuming food or drink prepared by an infected person who did not wash her/his hands after using the bathroom, or through oral-anal sexual contact.

Prevention of HAV

Clearly, good personal hygiene and proper sanitation are key to preventing HAV. It is important to wash your hands with soap and water each time after using the bathroom, after changing a diaper, and before preparing and eating food. It is also important to thoroughly wash fresh fruits and vegetables with clean water before eating.

If you are visiting a resource-limited country, it is especially important to follow these tips:

  • Do not drink the water or eat the ice unless it is has been sterilized or is commercially bottled. This applies to water you use to brush your teeth or any ice that may be in sodas, juices, or other beverages.
  • Do not eat raw fruits and vegetables sold in the streets or at local markets without first cleaning them with clean (bottled or sterilized) water

Getting vaccinated for HAV is another wonderful way to protect against the virus. In the US, the HAV vaccine is approved for use in people 12 months old and older. The HAV vaccine is safe for use by people living with HIV, pregnant women, and women who are breast-feeding.

The HAV vaccine is given in two shots over six months. Some people living with HIV who have low CD4 counts may need either a higher dose of these two shots, or additional shots to complete their HIV vaccination. You can also get a combined hepatitis A and hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine. The combination (HAV + HBV) vaccine requires three shots over six months. It is important to follow through and get all your shots in order to be fully protected.

The vaccine is recommended for people living with HIV, as well as for those who live in or are traveling to areas with high rates of HAV. It is also recommended for men who have sex with men, injecting and non-injecting drug users, persons with blood clotting disorders (for example, hemophilia), and persons with chronic liver disease (including hepatitis B or C). Children living in regions of the US with high rates of HAV should also be immunized.

After a non-immunized person has been exposed to HAV, giving an injection of immune globulin can prevent infection. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. Immune globulin contains antibodies against HAV, which provide short-term protection against infection. Immune globulin can be given before and within two weeks after coming in contact with the virus. In 2007, the CDC changed the US guidelines to allow the use of not only immune globulin but also the hepatitis A vaccine to prevent infection after exposure in healthy persons aged one to 40 years.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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