Hepatitis A: What you need to know

Hepatitis A: What you need to know

As pockets of our region experience outbreaks of hepatitis A, let’s talk about the facts and what you need to know when it comes to hepatitis A in both adults and children.

First, hepatitis A, or Hep A, is a communicable disease that is transmitted person-to-person via the fecal-oral route or by consumption of contaminated food and water. So, washing your hands after using the restroom and before eating and practicing good personal hygiene plays an important role in preventing the spread of this virus. 

Symptoms

In many ways, hepatitis A can, at first, appear similar to a stomach bug with abdominal pain and/or vomiting. You are most contagious during the one to two weeks prior to the onset of jaundice. Unfortunately, you may have no idea that you’re infected, or were even exposed, during that time period.

The most common symptoms of Hepatitis A include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Low appetite
  • Jaundice

It is not uncommon for children 6 and under to not have symptoms when they have hepatitis A.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

If you’ve already received the Hep A vaccine, then you don’t need to do anything further to protect yourself from hepatitis A. Hep A has been part of the standard vaccine recommendations for children since 2007. They typically receive the vaccine between 12 and 23 months of age. Hep A is among the vaccinations required for pre-K and kindergarten program entry in West Virginia.

If you have been recently exposed (within two weeks) to hepatitis A and have not been vaccinated, here are the recommendations:

  • Less than 12 months of age: Immune globulin
  • 12 months old through 40 years old: Hepatitis A vaccine
  • 41 years old and older: Immune globulin, but hepatitis A vaccine can be used if immune globulin is unavailable

Marshall Health follows Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices guidelines that recommend the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin for individuals with close contact with others who have hepatitis A, such as family members and health care workers; immunocompromised patients or those with chronic liver disease; and those traveling internationally.

If you have not been exposed but are still concerned, go ahead and get vaccinated. At Marshall Health, the Hep A vaccine is available at Marshall Family Medicine, Marshall Internal Medicine and Marshall Pediatrics clinics as well as both Marshall Pharmacy locations. The Hep A vaccine is also available through your local health department and many local pharmacies.

If you’re exposed to Hepatitis A

If you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, contact your local health department so they can document your exposure and administer the vaccine or immune globulin as necessary. Seek treatment from your primary care physician or a walk-in clinic as soon as possible. Hepatitis A is diagnosed by discussing your symptoms with a doctor and taking a blood sample.

The incubation period for hepatitis A is 15 to 50 days, although some may have symptoms for as long as six months. 

Hepatitis A, B & C – What’s the difference?

Lastly, there are significant differences between the various forms of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common forms of the virus found in our region.    

Hepatitis A Hepatitis B Hepatitis C
Transmitted fecal-oral route or by consumption of contaminated food or water. Contracted through blood, semen or another body fluid during sexual contact, sharing needles/syringes or from mother to baby during childbirth. Blood-borne virus, commonly contracted by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs with an infected person(s).
Prevented by Hepatitis A vaccine Prevented by Hepatitis B vaccine There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that spread the disease.
Self-limited – does not result in chronic infection; antibodies produced in response to infection protect against reinfection Acute, short-term illness for some; long-term chronic liver infection for others Chronic, long-term illness for the majority of people infected with Hepatitis C.

For more information about viral hepatitis, contact your primary care provider, local health department or Marshall Health at 304-691-1600.

Co-Authors

Joe Evans, M.D., FAAP

Dr. Evans is a board-certified pediatrician with Marshall Health and serves as associate professor/chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Larry D. Dial, M.D.

Dr. Dial is the chief medical officer for Marshall Health, vice dean for clinical affairs at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and a board-certified internal medicine physician.

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Marshall Health

Marshall Health is the academic medical team of the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.