What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus. People usually get hepatitis A from eating or drinking contaminated food or water. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) may not cause any symptoms or it may cause fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. This disease can cause adults and children to miss a lot of work and school and it can damage the liver. Hepatitis A can be rapid and severe, but it is rarely a fatal illness.
Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children over 1 year of age. Hepatitis A in the US is much less common since the vaccine has been used. If you have not been vaccinated, you should get the vaccine before you travel to or work in a country that has high rates of hepatitis A.
What is the HAV vaccine?
The HAV vaccine is very effective in preventing hepatitis A. The vaccine is given in 2 doses with at least 6 months between each dose. The vaccine should protect your child for many years, perhaps for life. The risk for hepatitis A is higher if:
- Travel or work in a developing country is planned.
- You live in an area that has outbreaks of hepatitis A.
- Your child has chronic liver disease.
- Your child receives clotting factor concentrates for a clotting disorder such as hemophilia.
Does the HAV vaccine cause any side effects?
The vaccine is not known to cause serious side effects. After being vaccinated, your child may have some soreness at the shot site, headache, or fatigue.
Who should get the HAV vaccine?
The HAV vaccine is recommended for all children over one year of age. If you are traveling outside of the US, the HAV vaccine is very important. It is best to be completely vaccinated against hepatitis A before you or your child travels. This means getting the first shot at least 7 months before traveling. If you don’t have that much time before you leave, it is still important for you and your child to get at least one shot 2 weeks or more before your trip.
Is the HAV vaccine required for my child to get into school?
The HAV vaccine is not a requirement for entry into school in most states. However, some states and counties now require proof of HAV immunization for school or preschool entry. Ask your healthcare provider if your area requires the HAV vaccine.
How can I prevent hepatitis A?
Always wash your hands after using the restroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing meals or eating. When you travel, avoid uncooked shellfish, raw fruits and vegetables that have not been peeled, tap water, and drinks with ice.
Immune globulin has been used to try to prevent hepatitis A when a person is exposed to someone with hepatitis A. However this protection does not last very long, is not very effective in preventing the spread of the disease, and is expensive.
Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-15
Last reviewed: 2010-10-13 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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