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Preventing hepatitis A

Description

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.

See also: Preventing hepatitis B or C

Handwashing

The following tips can help reduce your risk of spreading or catching the 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 more rapidly through day care centers and other places where people are in close contact. Thorough hand washing before and after each diaper change, before serving food, and after using the restroom may help prevent such outbreaks.

If You Are Exposed

If you have recently been exposed to hepatitis A and have not had hepatitis A before or have not received the hepatitis A vaccine series, ask your doctor or nurse 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 noninjected, 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.

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

  • People who use recreational, injectable drugs
  • People who work with the hepatitis A virus in a laboratory or with primates that may be infected 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
  • Employees of child day care centers
  • People who care for patients living in long-term nursing homes and other facilities

Travelers

Travelers 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.

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, and 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

Victor JC, Monto AS, Surdina TY, Suleimenova SZ, Vaughan G, Nainan OV, Favorov MO, Margolis HS, Bell BP. Hepatitis A vaccine versus immune globulin for postexposure prophylaxis. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1685-1694.

Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recommended immunization schedules for children, adolescents, and adults -- United States, 2010 (accessed November 9, 2010).

Wedemeyer H, Pawlotsky JM. Acute viral hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011.


Review Date: 10/16/2011
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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