Rite Aid is committed to total wellness and helping our customers avoid any disease that may interfere with achieving wellness. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by a virus found in the stool of an infected person. It is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts. It is primarily spread person-to-person via close, personal contact, by drinking contaminated water, and sometimes by eating contaminated food. Hepatitis A can cause flu-like symptoms, yellowing of the skin or eyes, severe stomach pain, and diarrhea. Hepatitis A may be mild or severe, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In rare cases, liver failure or death may occur.
How does Hepatitis A spread?
Hepatitis A is primarily transmitted when the feces/stool of an infected person contaminates objects, food, or drink that then comes into contact with an uninfected individual – usually via the mouth. Hepatitis A can be contracted:
- Through person-to-person contact
- When an infected person touches objects or food after using the bathroom and not washing hands properly
- If a parent or caregiver has not properly washed his/her hands after changing diapers, or cleaning up feces of a person who is infected
- Through sexual contact or sex with an infected person (not limited to oral or anal contact)
- Via contaminated water or food (including undercooked or frozen food)
- Most likely to occur in areas of the world where Hepatitis A is common due to poor personal hygiene and where sanitary conditions are also poor. Food and drinks most often contaminated are: fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. Chlorine in U.S. water supplies kills the Hepatitis A virus that might enter it.
What are the risk factors for Hepatitis A?
Anyone can contract Hepatitis A, but certain groups in the United States are at a much greater risk, like:
- Those who live in or travel to areas of the world where the disease is common
- Males who have sexual contact with other males
- Those who use illegal drugs (not limited to injected drugs)
- Hemophiliacs or others with blood-clotting conditions
- Those living with someone infected with Hepatitis A
- Those who have had anal or oral sexual contact with someone infected with Hepatitis A
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A?
A person could have no symptoms of Hepatitis A and still be infected with it. Children are less likely to have symptoms than adults. Symptoms typically appear two to six weeks after exposure. It typically takes several days for symptoms to develop. Symptoms normally last less than eight weeks, but some can experience symptoms for as long as six months.
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes or skin)
How is Hepatitis A diagnosed?
A doctor can determine if you have Hepatitis A by reviewing your symptoms and taking a blood sample.
How is Hepatitis A prevented?
The Hepatitis A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent contracting the disease. It is recommended for children, international travelers, and people who are at increased risk for Hepatitis A infection. A good way to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A is thoroughly washing hands before preparing food, after using the bathroom and after changing a diaper.
What are the treatments for Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A has no specific treatment. Those infected may feel ill for a few months before they start to feel better. Some, however, may require hospitalization. Doctors typically order rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids for those infected as they recover. Those afflicted should also consult a physician before taking any supplements, over-the-counter medications or prescriptions. These can sometimes lead to liver damage. Patients should be instructed to avoid alcohol.
What is the Hepatitis A vaccine?
The Hepatitis A vaccine consists of inactive Hepatitis A virus that is given to a person (in the form of an inoculation), which stimulates the immune system in the body. After the inoculation has been given, antibodies are produced by the person's body to protect him/her against the virus.
Antibodies are produced when the body responds to invading viruses. They're stored in the blood, and when a person is exposed to virus, the antibodies are released to combat the infection.
The Hepatitis A inoculation is administered as two shots, six months apart. A combination form of the vaccine is also available, containing both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines. This combination vaccine is typically given to those over 18 via three shots over a six-month period.
Who should get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the Hepatitis A vaccine series for all children between 12 to 23 months of age. Other people that should be routinely vaccinated with Hepatitis A vaccine include:
- Anyone 1 year of age and older
- Those traveling to countries with a high or intermediate prevalence of Hepatitis A. Visit the CDC's Travel Destinations List to determine if this vaccine is recommended in the area you are traveling to.
- Men who have sex with men
- People who use street drugs; injectable and non-injectable
- People with chronic liver disease, like Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- People who are treated with blood products to help the blood clot
- Members of households planning to adopt a child, or care for a newly adopted child, arriving from a country where Hepatitis A is prevalent
- People working with HAV infected primates or with HAV in research labs
Two doses of this vaccine are necessary to provide lasting protection. Doses are given at least six months apart.