Having a lot of young kids vaccinated against hepatitis A is one of the best ways to prevent outbreaks. It can also help stop the spread of hepatitis A to other people in a community.
Hepatitis A vaccines contain a killed virus called hepatitis A virus (HAV). They are safe and usually have no side effects.
Preventing Hepatitis A Infection
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is 94-100% effective in protecting people from infection.
All children should receive 2 shots of the hepatitis A vaccine at least 6 months apart.
Most people who get hepatitis A recover from it, but some can have chronic (long-term) illness. The virus can also cause fulminant hepatitis, which is fatal.
Infected people can spread the virus to others through ingestion of contaminated food and water, sex, and injection drug use. Transmission is most common in crowded, unsanitary environments where there is poor sanitation and hygiene.
Hospital-acquired hepatitis A is rare, but outbreaks occur in some settings and can be linked to fecal incontinence in neonatal intensive care units and to breakdowns in standard infection control practices. In these situations, it is important to maintain good hand hygiene and to follow standard hepatitis A vaccination recommendations for staff. This strategy has been proven to be effective in reducing the number of hospital-acquired HAV infections.
HAV Vaccines – Prevention of Hepatitis A Virus Infection
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection is a disease of the liver. It causes inflammation of the liver and vomiting, along with jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes. In rare cases, HAV can cause liver cancer or cirrhosis and even death.
Hepatitis A infections are most common among people living in developing countries with poor sanitation and poor personal hygiene practices. Transmission occurs through direct fecal-oral contact with stool from an infected person, as well as through consumption of food or water contaminated with stool, often without symptoms.
A small percentage of infected individuals develop life-threatening complications that include liver failure, pancreatitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome. These complications can be very serious and may require liver transplantation to restore normal function.
In the United States, pediatric HAV vaccines are recommended for all children at 1 year of age and as a catch-up vaccine for children 2 to 18 years who have not previously received the vaccine. The vaccine is safe and effective in most people, with 95 percent or more protection in adults for 20 years or longer and 85 percent or more in children for 15 to 20 years.
Routine vaccination is especially important for children who travel to hepatitis A-infected areas, and for those who have close contact with other people infected with hepatitis A. Vaccination also helps reduce the risk of outbreaks in day care centers and schools where children have close contact with each other.
HAV Vaccines – Prevention of Hepatitis A Virus Disease
Hepatitis A virus disease can be prevented with routine vaccination and careful hygienic practices. These include hand washing, changing diapers and eating properly.
However, the infected person will usually have lost most of the virus in their stool by the time they start to feel sick.
Vaccination is the preferred tool for preexposure prophylaxis because it induces active immunity and offers greater durability of protection. It is easier to administer and more readily available than immune globulin.
Immune globulin can be given to susceptible people at risk for exposure but is less effective than vaccination due to decreased antibody concentrations and immunogenicity.
The introduction of pediatric hepatitis A vaccines has resulted in a significant decline in hepatitis A infections. In vaccinating states, the rate of new hepatitis A cases has declined by 95 percent (figure 2) since 1995.