Preventing Hepatitis A

Outbreaks of hepatitis A continue to be reported throughout the country. Since 2016, there have been more than 28,000 cases associated with single site exposures in 30 states, resulting in more than 17,000 hospitalizations and 288 deaths. Sources of the outbreaks have been traced to contaminated blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, raw fish and even a flight attendant.

Hepatitis A is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis in the United States. Anyone, regardless of age, who has not been previously infected or who has not been vaccinated against hepatitis A can become infected and ill from the hepatitis A. The older you are, the sicker you can become.

Hepatitis A is transmitted through the fecal-oral route. The virus enters the body through the mouth, multiplies in the body and is passed in the feces. The virus can then be carried on an infected person’s hands and can be spread by direct contact, or by consuming food or drink that has been handled by the individual. This is the reason restaurant food handlers are frequent vectors of disease transmission. In some cases, it can be spread by sexual contact or by consuming contaminated water or food (e.g., raw shellfish, fruits and vegetables).

The symptoms of hepatitis A may include fatigue, poor appetite, fever and nausea. Some people might also have vomiting and abdominal cramping. Urine may darken and then yellowing of the eyes or jaundice may appear. The symptoms usually present themselves 15 to 50 days after exposure. Most often, the symptoms appear within four weeks. Most people recover in a few weeks without any complications. Infants and young children tend to have very mild symptoms and are less likely to develop jaundice than are older children and adults.

Hepatitis A can be easily transmitted from one person to another in homes, schools and work places. The contagious period begins about two weeks before the symptoms appear which is concerning. By the time jaundice occurs, most people are probably no longer contagious.

There are no special medicines or antibiotics that treat hepatitis A. Generally, providers will recommend rest, good nutrition, fluids, and treatment of symptoms. A small number of people might need to be hospitalized for the illness. The good news is that once an individual has recovered from hepatitis A, they cannot get it again and poses no health risk to others.

Hepatitis A can be prevented with careful hand washing after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food. People should avoid eating raw shellfish taken from potentially contaminated waters. Infected people should not handle foods during the contagious period.

There is a vaccine against hepatitis A that is effective in preventing HAV infection. Earlier this year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to update recommendations on the use of vaccines to protect against hepatitis A. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that all children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 18 who have not previously received the hepatitis A vaccine should receive a catch-up vaccination. Vaccination is also recommended for travelers to countries with high rates of illness, for anyone with chronic liver disease, for men who have sex with men and for anyone using illegal drugs. I would recommend universal vaccination for anyone not previously exposed.

Want It In Print?

We now offer matted and framed copies of articles upon request.

David Bernstein
David Bernstein, MD, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly and chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Leave a Reply

Discover

Sponsor

Latest

Celebrating Long Island’s Veterans

In honor of Memorial Day, Anton Media Group is publishing the biographies of this year’s Port Washington Grand Marshals.

Column: Student Perspectives During The COVID-19 Pandemic

A local student founded Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19, or LILAC, an organization that raises funds to serve COVID-19 patients, medical professionals, first responders and frontline workers putting their lives at risk. 

Students Make Blankets For Frontline Workers

Sabelle Rosen, a Plandome resident and junior at Friends Academy in Locust Valley and Ari Chananya a junior at Jericho High School, were so...

Inside Politics: The Weekly Newspaper Is A Treasure

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on all sorts of printed media.

Farmingdale Fitness Business Pays It Forward In The Face Of COVID-19

Guided by a firm belief that positivity is far more contagious than negativity, the Long Island business owner is continuing to spread good vibes while keeping his dream alive.

Get Updates Via Email

Enter your email to be updated with all the latest news and special announcements.

x