What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.
Hepatitis A is usually spread by contact with people who are infected or from contact with objects, food, water or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person, which can easily happen if someone doesn’t properly wash his or her hands after using the toilet. Hepatitis A disease tends to occur in community-wide outbreaks when many people eat from the same hepatitis A-infected food. It also transmits from person-to-person in households and extended family settings.
Not all people with hepatitis A have symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear two to six weeks after being infected and may include fatigue; nausea and vomiting; abdominal pain or discomfort; loss of appetite; low-grade fever; dark urine; clay-colored stools; muscle pain; and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
Since the introduction of the Hepatitis A vaccine in 1995, rates of the disease have been on the decline. Since only infections with symptoms are reported, and most infected children have no symptoms, the actual number of hepatitis A virus infections is estimated to be about 10 times higher that what is reported to the CDC. In 2013, 1,781 acute symptomatic cases of hepatitis A were reported. After adjusting for asymptomatic infection and underreporting, the estimated number of new hepatitis A infections was 3,473. About 1 out of 5 people with hepatitis A is hospitalized, and approximately 100 people die each year from hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A vaccine (HepA) protects against Hepatitis A infection. For children and adolescents two doses of the vaccine are needed. The first dose should be given to children between 12 and 23 months of age. The second dose should be given 6 to 18 months after the first dose.
Adults with specific risk factors for Hepatitis A or adults who just want to be protected from this disease should receive the vaccine. Two doses of the vaccine are needed.