Hepatitis A is the most common of the two enterically (relating to, or being within the intestine) transmitted hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus) in the U.S. and is one of the two vaccine-preventable hepatitis infections (hepatitis A and B). In children the infection is usually mild and without symptoms. However, in adults the severity generally increases with increasing age. Nonetheless, full recovery is expected in about 99% of all infections. HAV infection usually resolves on its own over several weeks, but occasionally relapses occur. Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, or via food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person. In rare cases, it can be spread through contact with infected blood. Basic precautions like washing hands with soap and water following bowel movements and before food preparation can reduce the incidence. Hepatitis A is prevented through vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hepatitis A vaccination for children aged 12 to 23 months and for adults who are at high risk for infection. Following the initial dose, a booster dose is given 6-12 months later. Treatment with immune globulin can provide short-term immunity to hepatitis A when given before exposure or within 2 weeks of exposure to the virus but vaccination is preferred since it provides long-term immunity lasting at least 20 years.
If you are traveling to any countries with poor sanitary conditions then you should get vaccinated at least one month before departure. You should also avoid tap water when traveling internationally and practice good hygiene and sanitation. People who should be vaccinated against hepatitis A include:
- Travelers (tourists, business, missionaries, military, peace-keepers)
- Users of illegal injected drugs
- Native peoples of America
- Restaurant workers and food handlers
- Children living in communities that have high rates of hepatitis
- Children and workers in day care centers
- People engaging in anal/oral sex or with STDs or HIV
- People with chronic liver disease
- If you eat raw shellfish frequently, ask your physician about being vaccinated.
- Laboratory workers who handle live hepatitis A virus.