Hepatitis A

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A (or HAV) is a communicable disease of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A virus. HAV is normally transmitted by person-to-person contact primarily through the fecal-oral route or by consuming contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is what’s known as a self-limited disease, which is a disease that generally resolves on its own or has no long-term harmful effects on a person’s health, and does not result in chronic infection.

Hepatitis A is also now a vaccine-preventable disease, with two vaccines that protect against hepatitis A:

  • The hepatitis A vaccine protects infants, children, and adults from hepatitis A
  • The hepatitis A and B combination vaccine protects adults from both hepatitis A and hepatitis B

How is Hepatitis A transmitted?

Hepatitis A is normally spread by a person unknowingly consuming the virus from various objects, food or drinks that have been previously contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person. It can also spread by personal contact with an infected person through activities such as sex or caring for an ill person.

What are Hepatitis A symptoms?

If symptoms of Hepatitis A develop, they can appear abruptly or up to two weeks after exposure. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Low appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Symptoms can persist for a few weeks, and severe cases can last months.

What are the differences between Hepatitis A, B and C?

Hepatitis AB and C are liver infections caused by three separate viruses. Each can cause similar symptoms, but they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A is normally a shorter-term infection, and does not become chronic or life-long. Hepatitis B and C can potentially begin as short-term, acute infections. But in some, the virus stays in their body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver issues.

There is a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A and B. But there is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A – (HAV) Found in the feces of people with Hepatitis A. It’s usually spread by close personal contact. Can also be spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with HAV or by traveling where an HAV infection is occurring.

Can be caught from:

  • Close person-to-person contact with an infected person
  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Ingestion of contaminated food or drinks  
Hepatitis B – (HBV) Found in blood and certain body fluids. Spread when blood or body fluid from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not immune. HBV is spread through having unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing needles or when shooting drugs, exposure to needlesticks or sharps on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth. Exposure to infected blood in ANY situation can be a risk for transmission.

Can be caught from:

  • Birth to an infected mother
  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other injection drug equipment
  • Needlesticks or other sharp instrument injuries  
Hepatitis C – (HCV) Found in blood and certain body fluids. Spread when blood or body fluid from an HCV infected person enters another person’s body. HCV is spread through sharing needles when shooting drugs, through exposure to needlesticks or sharps on the job, or sometimes from an infected mother to her baby during birth. It is possible to transmit HCV during sex, but it is not common.

Can be caught from:

  • Sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other injection drug equipment

Less commonly through:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Birth to an infected mother
  • Needlestick or other sharp instrument injuries  

Hepatitis A treatment

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Your body will clear the virus on its own in time, and in most cases the liver will heal itself within six months.

Is Hepatitis A curable?

Yes, Hepatitis A is curable, and your body will naturally do most of the work. The following can speed the process:

  • Hydrating and replenishing – Nausea from the virus may make it difficult to keep food and liquids down. Small snacks throughout the day as well as calorie-rich fluids such as juice (as well as water) will help provide the energy your body needs to clear out the virus.
  • Rest – Those with Hepatitis A feel tired and have less energy. Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoiding alcohol – Since the liver also processes alcohol, overloading it with alcohol can cause more damage and can diminish the effects of any medications you take.

The Hepatitis A vaccine

Thanks to medical breakthroughs and the subsequent vaccine, cases of Hepatitis A in the United States have dropped by 95 percent since the 1980s.

Children are regularly vaccinated between their first and second birthdays (12–23 months of age).  Older children and adolescents can get vaccinated after 23 months.

Adults not vaccinated and who want to be protected against the virus can get the vaccine if they choose. It’s important to note that Hepatitis A is one of the most common vaccine-preventable infections acquired during travel. Risk is higher for travelers going to rural areas, doing backcountry treks or eating and drinking in areas with poor sanitation. At least one vaccination is recommended prior to travel, but a second, administered 6–12 months after the first, is best for long-term protection.

What is the Hepatitis A vaccine schedule?

The vaccine is given in two doses for long-lasting protection. These doses are given at least 6 months apart.

How long does the Hepatitis A vaccine last?

The vaccine lasts up to 12 months against Hepatitis A. You can also get a booster injection for Hepatitis A after 6–12 months, which will then give up to 20 years of protection.

What are the Hepatitis A vaccine side effects?

The most common potential side effect of the Hepatitis A vaccine is soreness at or around the injection site. Other potential side effects may include mild headache, loss of appetite among children, and feeling tired. These side effects usually last 1 or 2 days.

Where can I get the Hepatitis A vaccine?

Thinking of getting a Hepatitis A vaccination? Contact your local Pharmaca pharmacy to schedule an appointment.

We’ve been offering many immunizations recommended by the CDC for certain health concerns and before travel abroad for many years. We accept most major insurance providers so that your immunizations can be convenient and affordable.