Hepatitis A Just a Little Prick

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects and can damage the liver. It is usually passed from one person to another through contaminated food or water, or through sexual contact. Hepatitis A can sometimes lead to hospitalization. In rare cases, it can lead to severe liver problems or death.

You can avoid infection by getting vaccinated and regularly washing your hands with soap.

If you think you may have hepatitis A, your doctor can check with a blood test.

Prevention and Care

The hepatitis A virus enters the body through the mouth and is passed in the stool (feces). It can be carried on an infected person’s hands and spread through direct and indirect contact, such as by eating food that was handled by an infected person. Hepatitis A may also be transmitted if someone is exposed to stool during sexual activity.

Infected people are most likely to spread the virus in the two weeks before symptoms appear and in the first week with symptoms.

You can avoid infection and transmission by:

  • Getting vaccinated.
  • Washing your hands with soap regularly, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Avoiding sexual practices that may result in hand or mouth exposure to stool (condoms prevent other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, but may not prevent hepatitis A).
  • Using bottled water or boiling tap water for one minute if you are in a country where hepatitis A is common, including countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. Also, avoid eating shellfish that may have come from a contaminated water source in those countries.

For lasting protection against hepatitis A, you should get two doses of the vaccine at least six months apart.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all children between ages 1 and 2 get vaccinated for hepatitis A. In addition, you should get vaccinated if:

  • You are traveling to a country with a high rate of hepatitis A. This includes countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Easern Europe and parts of Asia. You are best protected if you take the first dose at least a month before travel, but the vaccine will still provide protection if you get the first dose 2 weeks before travel.
  • You live or go to school in a place with a high rate of hepatitis A.
  • You work with the hepatitis A virus in a laboratory.
  • You are a sexually active gay man, or otherwise a man who has sex with men.
  • You have an existing chronic liver disease.
  • You use drugs.

You should also consider getting vaccinated if there is an outbreak of the infection in your community.

Studies have not found an increased risk of hepatitis A for people working in certain specific industries, including food service, health care and child care. However, the type of work done in these industries increases the risk of workers transmitting hepatitis A to the people they serve. People who work in these industries should consider vaccination to reduce this risk, especially if they are in a community experiencing an ongoing outbreak.

If you think you should get vaccinated, ask your doctor or visit a Health Department Immunization Clinic.

Symptoms of hepatitis A can appear between two and seven weeks after exposure. Most people start experiencing symptoms about one month after being exposed, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Not everyone who is infected will have all of these symptoms.

Symptoms can become severe and lead to hospitalization or death, but most people get better within a few weeks. Less than 1% of cases result in death. People who have chronic liver disease or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for serious illness.

Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than older children and adults.

There is no treatment for hepatitis A once symptoms appear, but most people fully recover on their own by resting and not drinking alcohol. People with hepatitis A should also avoid taking drugs that can hurt their liver, such as acetaminophen or Tylenol™.

If you have had hepatitis A and recovered from the disease, you are now immune and can never get infected again or spread the virus.

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