Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. It can cause fever, jaundice of the eyes and skin, swelling of the liver, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and grey-colored stools. Most people who get Hepatitis A get it through infected food or water or after an infected person uses the bathroom without washing his/her hands and then touches someone else or food that someone else then eats. This is called “fecal-oral transmission” (yes, I know, yuck.) The amount of feces that is needed to transmit Hepatitis A is tiny, even microscopic, so that one could get it after changing the diaper of an infected baby or adult without using proper hand hygiene. Hepatitis A can also be spread through sex. As it takes 2 to 7 weeks after infection to develop symptoms, most people never find out where or from whom they got the infection. Some people become infected and have no symptoms at all but still can spread the infection to others.
There is currently an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan that started in August 2016. As of May 2018 it has caused over 650 hospitalizations and 27 deaths.
How serious is Hepatitis A infection?
Most people who get Hepatitis A recover completely after several weeks. Many children and some adults get no symptoms at all, and some people get sick enough to need hospitalization. Death is uncommon but can result if liver failure develops. Most people who die from Hepatitis A are older than 50 years or already have liver disease (or both).
Who is at risk of Hepatitis A?
Anyone can get it, which is why we routinely vaccinate against it. However, certain people are at higher risk of contracting Hepatitis A (this list is from the CDC):
- People with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sexual contact with men
- People who use drugs, both injection and non-injection drugs
- Household members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with clotting factor disorders, such as hemophilia
- People working with nonhuman primates
Can I prevent Hepatitis A?
YES!!! There is a vaccine that is very effective; it has been given routinely to children at 12 months and again at 18 months old since 2005. Older children and adults can get vaccinated as well. The full series is 2 doses at least 6 months apart. Also, if you find out that you have been exposed to Hepatitis A, either getting the vaccine or a medication called Hepatitis A immune globulin may prevent the infection from developing.
Find out more at the CDC’s Hepatitis A website
June 14, 2018: Now even the Huffington Post is talking about Hep A!!