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Hepatitis A & B


1 Why get vaccinated?

Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease. It is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is spread from person to person through contact with the feces (stool) of people who are infected, which can easily happen if someone does not wash his or her hands properly. You can also get hepatitis A from food, water, or objects contaminated with HAV.

Symptoms of hepatitis A can include:

• fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and/or joint pain

• severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children), or

• jaundice (yellow skin or eyes, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements).

These symptoms usually appear 2 to 6 weeks after exposure and usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months. If you have hepatitis A you may be too ill to work.

Children often do not have symptoms, but most adults do. You can spread HAV without having symptoms. Hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death, although this is rare and occurs more commonly in persons 50 years of age or older and persons with other liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or C. Hepatitis A vaccine can prevent hepatitis A. Hepatitis A vaccines were recommended in the United States beginning in 1996. Since then, the number of cases reported each year in the U.S. has dropped from around 31,000 cases to fewer than 1,500 cases.

2 Hepatitis A vaccine

Hepatitis A vaccine is an inactivated (killed) vaccine. You will need 2 doses for long-lasting protection. These doses should be given at least 6 months apart. Children are routinely vaccinated between their first and second birthdays (12 through 23 months of age). Older children and adolescents can get the vaccine after 23 months. Adults who have not been vaccinated previously and want to be protected against hepatitis A can also get the vaccine.

You should get hepatitis A vaccine if you:

• are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common,

• are a man who has sex with other men,

• use illegal drugs,

• have a chronic liver disease such as hepatitis B or

hepatitis C,

• are being treated with clotting-factor concentrates,

• work with hepatitis A-infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory, or

• expect to have close personal contact with an international adoptee from a country where hepatitis A is common


Hepatitis B is a serious disease that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can cause mild illness lasting a few weeks, or it can lead to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis B virus infection can be either acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. This can lead to:

• fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and/or vomiting

• jaundice (yellow skin or eyes, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements)

• pain in muscles, joints, and stomach

Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. Most people who go on to develop chronic hepatitis B do not have symptoms, but it is still very serious and can lead to:

• liver damage (cirrhosis)

• liver cancer

• death

Chronically-infected people can spread hepatitis B virus to others, even if they do not feel or look sick themselves. Up to 1.4 million people in the United States may have chronic hepatitis B infection. About 90% of infants who get hepatitis B become chronically infected and about 1 out of 4 of them dies. Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus through:

• Birth (a baby whose mother is infected can be infected at or after birth)

• Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person

Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent hepatitis B and its consequences, including liver cancer and cirrhosis.

2 Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B vaccine is made from parts of the hepatitis B virus. It cannot cause hepatitis B infection. The vaccine is usually given as 3 or 4 shots over a 6-month period. Infants should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and will usually complete the series at 6 months of age.

All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not yet gotten the vaccine should also be vaccinated.

Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for unvaccinated adults who are at risk for hepatitis B virus infection, including:

• People whose sex partners have hepatitis B

• Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term monogamous relationship

• Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease

• Men who have sexual contact with other men

• People who share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment

• People who have household contact with someone infected with the hepatitis B virus

• Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or body fluids

• Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally

disabled persons

• Persons in correctional facilities

• Victims of sexual assault or abuse

• Travelers to regions with increased rates of hepatitis B

• People with chronic liver disease, kidney disease, HIV infection, or diabetes

• Anyone who wants to be protected from hepatitis B

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