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Immunization matters: Protect yourself from hepatitis A

There is no treatment for hepatitis A, but there are ways to reduce your risk of getting it. Frequent hand-washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food can help prevent the spread. The best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A is through immunization.

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My child is going to preschool in the fall, and I was told she needs a hepatitis A shot. What is hepatitis A? Does she really need to get the vaccine?

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus. HAV is passed in the stool of an infected person. It can get on an individualís hands and be spread if they donít wash their hands correctly. You also can get hepatitis A from food, water and other objects (like doorknobs and diapers) contaminated with HAV.

Hepatitis A is rarely blood-borne but outbreaks have been identified in those who have received blood-clotting factors. HAV is most contagious in the stool one to two weeks before a person starts feeling sick and continues up to one week after symptoms start. The time it takes an individual to become sick after exposure averages 30 days but can be anywhere from 15-50 days.

HAV can live outside the body for months, increasing the risk of exposure. Symptoms of hepatitis A look a lot like the flu: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children).

A personís skin and eyes can become yellow. Many children donít have any symptoms, and because they have less-developed personal hygiene habits, the virus can spread quickly in day cares and preschools. Symptoms tend to get worse the older a person gets, usually lasting two months but can come and go up to six months. Almost all healthy people will completely recover from hepatitis A without long-term complications and do not become carriers.

The chance of death from HAV is very small, but most doctors still recommend children get vaccinated in order to decrease the number of hepatitis A infections and to help protect those who could be more severely impacted from the disease and those who may be unable to get the vaccine.

Food-borne hepatitis A outbreaks have been well-documented in the United States and are the most common causes of HAV infections. The United States averages six food-borne hepatitis A outbreaks per year, usually related to HAV-infected food handlers. These outbreaks can be caused by many different types of food such as under-cooked or raw meat and fish, unwashed fresh fruits or vegetables, or frozen fruits and vegetables.

The CDC estimates there were 2,500 new cases in the U.S. and 76 deaths related to hepatitis A in 2014 (the most recent year statistics are available). The number of new cases has decreased significantly since the introduction of the hepatitis A vaccine in 1996 and its expanded use in 2000.

By getting vaccinated, your child is much less likely to get and spread HAV to older children and other adults who are more likely to get much sicker. So far vaccinating children against hepatitis A has significantly decreased the number of infections across all age groups in the U.S.

There is no treatment for hepatitis A, but there are ways to reduce your risk of getting it. Frequent hand-washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food can help prevent the spread. The best way to protect yourself against hepatitis A is through immunization.

The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children between the age of 1 and 2 in two doses at least six months apart. All children who will be in preschool are required to have two doses of hepatitis A vaccine. Additionally the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for older kids and adults who want immunity to hepatitis A or who may be at high risk of exposure to HAV (people who are traveling to or adopting children from countries with high rates of HAV, people with blood-clotting disorders who receive clotting factors, those with chronic liver disease and staff who work in child care facilities, preschools, schools and health care).

Talk to your health care provider if you are interested in receiving hepatitis A vaccines. Hepatitis A vaccines are available through the Holmes County Health District immunization clinics. To learn more about hepatitis A or vaccinations, call the Health District at 330-674-5035.

Published: February 14, 2017
New Article ID: 2017702149983