What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a serious infection of the liver by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is spread by fecal matter (tiny poop particles💩) that you accidentally eat (Eww😝), usually by means of contaminated food and water. Hep A can also spread by close contact with a person infected with the virus or their caretakers, shared needle use, and unprotected sexual contact.
According to the CDC, signs of this infection include:
- fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and/or joint pain
- severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children), or
- jaundice (yellow skin or eyes, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements)
HAV can last up to 2-6 months and usually begins within a few weeks of exposure. Most people will be ok and have no long term effects from this virus. Once you get Hep A you can’t get it again (phew!). In some severe cases Hep A can cause death. 😳 Interestingly, children under the age of 6 may not have any symptoms at all.
Hepatitis A Vaccine
The Hepatitis A vaccine protects you against getting hepatitis A. 😎 It is routinely offered to children at 1 years of age and then again at least 6 months later at their 18 month or 2 year visit. Anyone can get the vaccine and it works best as 2 doses given 6 months apart. According to the CDC, the following high risk people should get the Hep A vaccine. People who:
- are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
- are a man who has sex with other men
- use illegal drugs
- have a chronic liver disease such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- are being treated with clotting-factor concentrates
- work with hepatitis A-infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory
- expect to have close personal contact with an international adoptee from a country where hepatitis A is common
Is the Hep A vaccine safe?
Hepatitis A vaccine is found to be very safe with very minimal side effects or problems. Since the vaccine was developed in 1996, the occurrence of Hepatitis A in the community has significantly decreased. Minor side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site, achiness, fatigue and low grade fever. Most people tolerate the hepatitis A vaccine very well. The risks are low and the benefits are high! ❤️
What if I am exposed to Hep A?
If you know, or suspect, that you have been exposed to Hep A, you should be sure to get the Hep A vaccine or a special infusion called immune globulin within 2 weeks of exposure. You should call your Primary Care Provider right away to discuss the best plan for you.
Why are there Hepatitis A outbreaks?
You may have heard about Hepatitis A on the news. There have been many outbreaks in recent years. From 2013 to 2016, there were multi-state hepatitis A outbreaks because of contaminated frozen strawberries and pomegranate seeds and a localized outbreak from raw scallops. More recently there was an outbreak in Colorado and California related to drug use.
This disease is often seen in areas of poor living conditions, in intravenous drug users, and in jails. Now, don’t think that because you aren’t an IV drug user that you can’t get Hep A. All it takes is someone with Hep A to go to the bathroom, not wash their hands and then make your food at a restaurant (gross, I know!). Water contaminated with Hepatitis A that is used to wash your produce can also cause transmission. This is how outbreaks happen and how hepatitis A is spread.
You may not feel you’re at high risk for hepatitis A, but it is important to protect yourself and your family against hepatitis A, especially if you go out to dinner or have other people preparing your food in the grocery store or a restaurant. Which, let’s be honest, is all of us! So be sure to wash those hands.
Think you might have symptoms of Hepatitis A?
If you are worried that you might have Hepatitis A, make sure to do the following. Drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated, use good hand hygiene to avoid exposing others, and reach out right away to your primary care provider to get guidance. Usually, HAV infection is self-limited. This means your immune system will take care of it on its own without medication. However, really good self-care and rest is crucial. The Hep A illness may last months and it might take up to 6 months to fully get back to yourself. If at any point you are feeling worse, getting yellow 😷, unable to stay hydrated and having profuse diarrhea, or having any other concerning symptoms, please make sure to get checked out right away!
You may have lots of questions about the vaccine or the illness. We would love to chat with you if you are concerned. Reach out to one of our nurses 24/7 and we can help.
–Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP
Nurse-1-1 Health Center is written by nurses in a straight to the point type of way to provide basic health information. We get a lot of people like you searching online for answers to health concerns or looking for a hotline to ask a nurse a few questions. Questions like how to prevent tick bites in kids? Is there an HPV treatment? How common is pertussis in adults? Well we can help— we put some info here for you to find while searching through all that other dry, scary medical information online. Stop that. Read our posts, or chat with us. This is not medical advice or a replacement for medical care, but see what we have to say with our free health information, and hopefully it will stop you from scaring yourself any more than you already have. We can help.