How It Is Spread
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread through the fecal-oral route. In the majority of cases, it is spread when a person eats food, commonly fruit, vegetables or shellfish, or drinks water or ice contaminated by feces. It also can be spread through unsanitary diapering. That’s why hand washing is so important after using the bathroom.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people at risk for HAV include international travelers, IV drug users who share needles and men who have sex with men. However, the CDC states that in 50% of cases there is no risk factor identified. People who work in the food, healthcare and sewage industries, and those who work in nursing homes are also at risk for HAV.
The CDC estimates that 1/3 of the US population has been exposed to HAV. Symptoms are age related—children are typically asymptomatic, while most adults show symptoms. They appear two to six weeks after exposure and can include fatigue, fever, itching and jaundice. Other symptoms can include decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, dark urine and clay-colored stools.
Testing and Treatment
Blood tests can detect antibodies to HAV. Most people recover within three to six months after infection. Once the infection is gone, HAV does not remain in the body.
Prevention and Vaccination
To prevent the spread of HAV, it is vital that people practice good hygiene and hand-washing methods after using the bathroom and before handling food or beverages.
The CDC recommends that babies receive their first HAV vaccination when they are 12-23 months old. The second vaccine is given six months later. NHF’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MASAC) recommends that all people with bleeding disorders, and particularly those with hepatitis C, be vaccinated against HAV, unless they have proof of immunity. Read the MASAC recommendation on hepatitis A and B vaccinations.