According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis A has been reported in thirty states. Public health officials are recommending vaccination against hepatitis A along with good handwashing practices. See CDC recommendations below for who should be vaccinated.
Two public health declarations have already been issued in Florida and Philadelphia. See bottom of the document for more information.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Liver damage and in rare cases, liver failure and death can occur. Symptoms of hepatitis A may include feeling tired, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), lack of appetite, stomach upset or pain, fever, dark urine or light-colored stools, diarrhea, and joint pain. Not everyone infected has symptoms.
The hepatitis A virus is found in the blood or stool of people who are infected and spread by close person-to-person contact with an infected person or by eating contaminated food or drink. The incubation period of hepatitis A is usually 14 to 28 days. Infected people are most contagious from two weeks before symptoms start until one week after the onset of jaundice.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by vaccination and good handwashing. “The hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective,” said William Fried, M.D., Senior Director, Aetna Clinical Solutions. “While good hand washing hygiene plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A, immunization is the best way to protect yourself against this infection.”
The CDC recommends vaccination for people in the following groups:
- Any person wishing to obtain immunity (protection)
- People with unstable housing or experiencing homelessness
- Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not
- Men who have sexual encounters with other men
- People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People over the age of 60 with an underlying medical condition
- People with direct contact with others who have hepatitis A
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Family and caregivers of new adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
- All children at age 1 year
Diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis A
Your doctor can make the diagnosis of hepatitis A, based on your symptoms and blood testing. If you have had recent exposure to hepatitis A (within 2 weeks) you can get the hepatitis A vaccine or a shot of immune globulin to help prevent serious illness. Otherwise, rest, adequate nutrition and fluids are recommended. Some people will need care in a hospital.
Public Health Emergency Declarations: As hepatitis A virus outbreaks spread across the U.S., concern grows among public health officials.
- On August 1, 2019, the Florida Department of Health declared a public health emergency due to outbreaks seen in several counties.
- On August 2, 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Health issued a public health emergency.