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Preventing hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. You can take several steps to prevent catching or spreading the virus.

Handwashing

To reduce your risk of spreading or catching the hepatitis A virus:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom and when you come in contact with an infected person's blood, stools, or other bodily fluid.
  • Avoid unclean food and water.

The virus may spread quickly through day care centers and other places where people are in close contact. To prevent outbreaks, wash hands well before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom.

Avoid unclean food and water

You should take the following precautions:

  • Avoid dairy products.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat and fish.
  • Beware of sliced fruit that may have been washed in contaminated water. Travelers should peel all fresh fruits and vegetables themselves.
  • DO NOT buy food from street vendors.
  • Use only carbonated bottled water for brushing teeth and drinking. (Remember that ice cubes can carry infection.)
  • If no water is available, boiling water is the best method for eliminating hepatitis A. Bringing the water to a full boil for at least 1 minute generally makes it safe to drink.
  • Heated food should be hot to the touch and eaten right away.

If you are Exposed

If you were recently exposed to hepatitis A and have not had hepatitis A before, or have not received the hepatitis A vaccine series, ask your health care provider about receiving a hepatitis A immune globulin shot.

Common reasons why you may need to receive this shot include:

  • You live with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • You recently had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • You recently shared illegal drugs, either injected or non-injected, with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • You have had close personal contact over a period of time with someone who has hepatitis A.
  • You have eaten in a restaurant where food or food handlers were infected or contaminated with hepatitis A.

You will likely get the hepatitis A vaccine at the same time you receive the immune globulin shot.

Vaccines

Vaccines are available to protect against hepatitis A infection. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children older than age 1.

The vaccine begins to protect 4 weeks after you receive the first dose. A 6- to 12-month booster is required for long-term protection.

People who are at higher risk for hepatitis A and should receive the vaccine include:

  • People who use recreational, injectable drugs
  • Health care and laboratory workers who may come in contact with the virus
  • People who have chronic liver disease
  • People who receive clotting factor concentrate to treat hemophilia or other clotting disorders
  • Military personnel
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Caretakers in day care centers, long-term nursing homes, and other facilities

Travelers

People who work or travel in areas where hepatitis A is common should be vaccinated. These areas include:

  • Africa
  • Asia (except Japan)
  • The Mediterranean
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Middle East
  • Central and South America
  • Mexico
  • Parts of the Caribbean

If you are traveling to these areas in fewer than 4 weeks after your first shot, you may not be fully protected by the vaccine. You can also get a preventive dose of immunoglobulin (IG).

References

Kim DK, Bridges CB, Harriman KH; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP); ACIP Adult Immunization Work Group. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Recommended Immunization Schedules for adults aged 19 years and older -- United States, 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR. 2015:64(4):91-2. PMID: 25654609 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25654609.

Pawlotsky JM. Acute viral hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 148.

Sjogren MH, Bassett JT. Hepatitis A. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 78.

Strikas RA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP); ACIP Child/Adolescent Immunization Work Group. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 through 18 years -- United States, 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR. 2015:64(4):93-4. PMID: 25654610 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25654610.

Update Date 8/14/2015