Infectious Disease News

Have You Gotten Your Hepatitis A Vaccine?

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

You may have noticed that hepatitis A has been in the local news a lot lately. As the number of cases continues to rise across southeast Michigan, Henry Ford infectious diseases physician Katherine Reyes, M.D., MPH, urges people to get vaccinated against the disease.

Hepatitis A is contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

Vaccination involves two shots six months apart for long-term protection.

“The vaccine is very safe and highly effective,” Dr. Reyes says. “The first dose can last for at least 20 years. Having the second dose ensures lifelong immunity.”

The hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for anyone older than one year. Many children are already vaccinated against the disease as part of the standard immunization schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but many adults have not received this vaccine.

Vaccination is also recommended for these high-risk groups:

  • Travelers to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men.
  • Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs.
  • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates.
  • People who work with hepatitis A infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory.

How Hepatitis A Spreads

“To prevent the spread of the hepatitis A virus, we encourage proper hand hygiene. That is, washing your hands with soap and warm water, most especially after using the bathroom, before preparing food and before eating.”

Dr. Reyes says hepatitis A can be transmitted by contact with an infected person or consuming food or water contaminated by stool from an infected person.

Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine and a yellowing of the skin or eyes. If symptoms occur, they typically appear from two to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms can last for several weeks and up to six months.

Dr. Reyes cautions that a person can spread infection without having symptoms.

“If you think you’ve been exposed, speak to your health care provider or your local health department. You may benefit from what we call post-exposure prophylactics. That includes getting the vaccine or a substance called immunoglobulin. This is most effective when you get it within two weeks of being exposed.”

Hepatitis A is diagnosed by a blood test. There are no special treatments for hepatitis A. Most people will feel sick for a few months before they begin to feel better. A few people will need to be hospitalized. During this time, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids. People with hepatitis A should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, which can potentially damage the liver. Avoid alcohol.

Talk to your doctor or contact your local health department about getting the hepatitis A vaccine. Call 1-800-HENRYFORD (736-4936) or visit henryford.com to make an appointment.

Dr. Katherine Reyes is a physician in the Henry Ford Department of Infectious Diseases and medical director of infection prevention and control for Henry Ford Health System. She sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.