The Hepatitis A Vaccine

Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus. Found in the stool of people with Hepatitis A, the virus is usually spread by close personal contact with those infected.

The course of Hepatitis A is extremely variable, ranging from an asymptomatic infection to icteric (jaundiced) hepatitis or liver disease. Symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice. These may range from mild transient symptoms to a severe prolonged and potentially fatal course. Hepatitis A is often asymptomatic in children, but they may still excrete the virus in their stool and serve as a source of infection to others.

Infection with Hepatitis A is predominately spread from person to person via the fecal-oral route. Infection has been shown to be spread by infected food handlers or with a breakdown in sanitary condition after floods or other natural disasters. Ingestion of raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated waters can also cause disease. One should always be vigilant with hand-washing when traveling to areas of the world with poor hygiene conditions, as this can help prevent the spread of the disease.

The AAP now recomends the Hepatits A vaccine for all children older than one year old. Older children should also be immunized if traveling to areas endemic for Hepatitis A. These areas include Africa, Asia (except Japan), the Mediterranean basin, Mexico, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, and parts of the Caribbean.

Primary immunization with the Hepatitis A vaccine should be at least 2 weeks prior to travel. A booster is given 6-12 months later for prolonged protection. Side effects include injection-site soreness, fatigue, fever and nausea.