Hepatitis A virus is found in the stool (feces) of infected persons, and is transmitted when contaminated items are ingested by others, even though they may look clean. In very rare instances, Hepatitis A virus can be transmitted. One infection with the Hepatitis A virus (either naturally or by vaccination) will protect you for life from re-infection.
Persons infected with the Hepatitis A virus usually begin to show symptoms around 28 days after being infected, although it can range from 15-50 days. They are the most infectious in the two weeks before they begin to show symptoms, although a person will continue to be able to spread the virus for the entire time they show symptoms. Because the symptoms of Hepatitis A are the same as all of the other types of hepatitis, special blood tests must be performed in order to diagnose Hepatitis A infection. Although most infections resolve on their own, one in five people infected with Hepatitis A will be hospitalized for the symptoms of their illness.
Hepatitis A vaccine
A save and effective vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A infection has existed since 1996. Two doses of the vaccine provide immunity in virtually 100% of the population, with no reports of severe adverse side effects. The vaccine is recommended for high risk persons aged two years and older:
- international travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- men who have sex with men
- injecting and other drug users
- persons with chronic liver disease
- persons who use clotting factors
- children who live in areas with an increased baseline rate of hepatitis A
The vaccine has determined to be protective within one month of the first dose.
Protecting yourself from Hepatitis A
The best way to protect yourself from Hepatitis A is to be vaccinated. If you need immediate protection, then immune globulin is administered, which creates temporary immunity to Hepatitis A. You should then be vaccinated at a later date to be determined by your physician.
You should also wash your hands after going to the bathroom, after changing a diaper, and before, during, and after preparing food.