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Hepatitis A Vaccine?

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection caused by a virus. People usually get hepatitis A from eating contaminated food or water. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) may not cause any symptoms or it may cause fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. This disease can cause adults and children to miss a lot of work and school and it can damage the liver. Hepatitis A can be rapid and severe and rarely is a fatal illness.

Most cases of hepatitis A in the United States occur in community outbreaks of the disease. The southwestern part of the US has more cases of hepatitis A than the midwestern or eastern US. People who travel to countries that have high rates of this disease may get the virus and bring it back to the US.

What is the HAV vaccine?

The HAV vaccine is very effective in preventing hepatitis A. The vaccine is given in 2 doses with at least 6 months between each dose. The vaccine should protect your child for many years, perhaps for life.

Does the HAV vaccine cause any side effects?

The vaccine is not known to cause serious side effects. After being vaccinated, your child may have some soreness at the shot site, headache, or fatigue.

Who should get the HAV vaccine?

Children get the hepatitis B vaccine as a part of the normal immunization schedule, but the vaccine for hepatitis A is not routinely given. Children over one year of age can have the HAV vaccine. Children in some areas of the US are at very low risk for the disease and may not need the vaccine. Children in other parts of the US are at higher risk of exposure to the virus. Your health care provider may recommend that your child be vaccinated.

If you are traveling outside of the US you may need the HAV vaccine. It is best to be completely vaccinated against hepatitis A before you or your child travels. This means getting the first shot at least 7 months before traveling. If you don't have that much time before you leave, it is still important for you and your child to get at least one shot 2 weeks or more before your trip.

Is the HAV vaccine required for my child to get into school?

The HAV vaccine is not a requirement for entry into school in most states. However, some states and counties now require proof of HAV immunization for school or preschool entry. Ask your health care provider if your area requires the HAV vaccine.

Are there other ways to prevent hepatitis A?

Immune globulin has been used to try to prevent hepatitis A when a person is exposed to someone with hepatitis A. However this protection does not last very long, is not very effective in preventing the spread of the disease, and is expensive.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-05
Last reviewed: 2006-08-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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