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Basic Questions and Answers About Hepatitis A

September 2, 2015

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Prevention/Vaccination

Can Hepatitis A Be Prevented?

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.


What Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

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.


Who Should Get Vaccinated Against Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for:

  • All children at age 1 year
  • Travelers to countries that have high rates of Hepatitis A
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs
  • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
  • People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates
  • People who work with Hepatitis A infected animals or in a Hepatitis A research laboratory


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How Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine Given?

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.


Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine Effective?

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.


Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine Safe?

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.


Who Should Not Receive the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

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.


Who Should Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine Before Traveling?

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. CDC's Travelers' Health site provides detailed information about Hepatitis A and other recommended vaccines.


What Is Immune Globulin?

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.


Why Is the Hepatitis A Vaccine Recommended Before Traveling?

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.


How Soon Before Travel Should the Hepatitis A Vaccine Be Given?

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.


I'm Leaving for My Trip in a Few Days. Can I Still Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

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.


Will the Hepatitis A Vaccine Protect Someone From Other Forms of Hepatitis?

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.


Can Hepatitis A Vaccine Be Given to Immunocompromised Persons, Such as Hemodialysis Patients or Persons With AIDS?

Yes. Because Hepatitis A vaccine is inactivated (not "live"), it can be given to people with compromised immune systems.


Is It Harmful to Have an Extra Dose of Hepatitis A Vaccine or to Repeat the Entire Hepatitis A Vaccine Series?

No, getting extra doses of Hepatitis A vaccine is not harmful.


What Should Be Done if the Last Dose of Hepatitis A Vaccine Is Delayed?

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.


Where Can I Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

Speak with your health professional or call your local public health department, may offer free or low-cost vaccines for adults. For children, check out www.cdc.gov/vaccines/.

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

 

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