Hepatitis A

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Hepatitis A Overview

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a contagious disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. The virus spreads through infected poop. You can get hepatitis A if you put something in your mouth (food, water, hands) that has infected poop on or in it. The item can have the virus on it even if it looks clean.

Read more about hepatitis A and how it affects people on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Not everyone with hepatitis A has symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear 2 to 7 weeks after infection. Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

If symptoms develop, they can include:

  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine or light- colored stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Feeling tired

Many people, especially children, have no symptoms but can still spread the virus. In addition, a person can transmit the hepatitis A virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

If you do get sick with hepatitis A, you cannot get the virus again.

Who is at risk?

Although anyone can get hepatitis A, in the United States, certain groups of people are at higher risk for getting infected and for having severe disease if they do get hepatitis A.

People at increased risk for hepatitis A

  • International travelers
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who use or inject drugs (all those who use illegal drugs)
  • People with occupational risk for exposure
  • People who anticipate close personal contact with an international adoptee
  • People experiencing homelessness

People at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A infection

  • People with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • People with HIV

Limit the spread of hepatitis A

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is with the hepatitis A vaccine.

You can also stop the spread of germs by washing your hands well. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds after you use the bathroom or change a diaper, and before you make or eat food.

If you were exposed to hepatitis A recently and you haven't gotten the hepatitis A vaccine, you should get the vaccine within two weeks. If you are over age 40 or have health conditions that put you at high risk for the disease, a doctor or clinic may give you something called immune globulin as well as the vaccine.

Call your doctor, nurse, or clinic, or your local health department. They will tell you the steps to take next.

Hepatitis A Vaccine

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?

  • All children aged 12-23 months
  • All children and adolescents 2–18 years of age who have not previously received hepatitis A vaccine.
  • People at increased risk for hepatitis A.
  • People at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A infection.

People who have ever had a life-threatening 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 12 months (one year) old.

What are the side effects of hepatitis A vaccine?

The most common side effect of hepatitis A vaccine is soreness where the shot was given.

This vaccine is continually monitored for safety. The benefits and side effects of this vaccine outweigh the risk of getting hepatitis A.

Why is hepatitis A vaccine important?

Getting two doses of hepatitis A vaccine is nearly 100% effective at preventing the disease.

Getting vaccinated protects yourself, your family, and others in the community. This protects people who can’t get vaccinated, such as infants.

Since the hepatitis A vaccine was first recommended in 1996, cases of hepatitis A in the United States have declined dramatically.

Even with fewer cases, vaccines are still important because the United States still has outbreaks of disease in unvaccinated populations.

Vaccine Information Statement and Resources

The Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is given to parents/guardians at the time of vaccination. It explains the benefits and risks of the specific vaccination.

Read the current hepatitis A VIS from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additional resources for the public

Additional resources for health care providers

Childhood Vaccine Program

The Washington State Childhood Vaccination Program provides vaccines to children 18 years of age and younger at no cost. Hepatitis A is included in this program.

View participating health care providers on the Department of Health’s Vaccine Provider Map.