What You Need To Know About The Hepatitis A Vaccine
Hepatitis A Vaccine
What is hepatitis A?
Each year about 100,000 Americans become infected with Hepatitis A -- a potentially serious liver disease caused by a virus. Symptoms of hepatitis A may include fever, lack of energy, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice). These symptoms can last for up to six months. However, many people who have the disease experience no symptoms.
The hepatitis A virus is present in the feces of an infected person, and it is very contagious. If a person infected with the virus forgets to wash his/her hands after going to the bathroom, the virus can be spread by touching the mouth directly, or by touching food or other items that are placed in the mouth. Hepatitis A can also be spread through sexual contact with an infected person. In addition, the disease can be spread by drinking water that is contaminated with human feces, or by eating foods (like raw shellfish, salads, or unpeeled fruits) that have been washed in the contaminated water.
What is the hepatitis A vaccine?
The hepatitis A vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the disease. It is recommended that persons at high risk for getting hepatitis A should receive two doses of the vaccine for long-term protection. The second shot is generally given 6-12 months after the first. Delay in getting the second dose does not mean that the series needs to be re-started.
Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
Persons age 2 years and above who fall into any of the high risk categories listed below should receive the hepatitis A vaccine:
- People who live in, travel to, or work in areas where there are high rates of hepatitis A infections or where periodic outbreaks of hepatitis A occur (like certain Alaskan Native and Native American communities, and certain developing countries -- contact your doctor or your local or state health department for more information);
- Men who have sex with men;
- People who use injection or street drugs;
- Military personnel;
- Certain hospital and laboratory workers;
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common.
The hepatitis A vaccine is safe. However, some people experience minor side effects like redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. Headache and fatigue are less common. If these side effects do occur, they last only for a short time. Consult your doctor for more information.