Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program

Hepatitis A summary

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. Poor hand washing by infected persons increases the risk of transmission. The virus spreads more easily in areas where sanitary conditions and personal hygiene practices are poor. Most infections result from exposure during international travel or contact with a household member or sexual partner who has hepatitis A. Men who have sex with men are at higher risk.

The national rate of hepatitis A has declined dramatically since 1995. In 2006, a total of 3,579 acute symptomatic cases of hepatitis A were reported nationally, (1.2 per 100,000 population), the lowest rate ever recorded.

Maine’s HAV rate is typically lower than the national rate. The five cases reported in Maine in 2007 account for a rate of 0.4 per 100,000. Three out of five (60%) were female. The mean age was sixty-three with a range of thirty-nine to eighty-seven years old.

Hepatitis A can be prevented by washing hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing or eating food. Casual contact, such as in the office setting, factory setting, or school setting, does not spread the virus.

Hepatitis A can also be prevented through vaccination and immune globulin. Hepatitis A vaccine can be given to persons 12 months of age and older. The vaccine is given to protect persons from getting hepatitis A before and after exposure to the virus. The vaccine is recommended for all children at 12 months of age and for persons who are more likely to get hepatitis A or get seriously ill if they get hepatitis A. Immune globulin can be given before exposure for short-term protection against hepatitis A and for persons who have already been exposed to HAV. It must be given within 2 weeks after exposure to hepatitis A virus for maximum protection.

Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for the following persons:

  • All children at 12 months of age or before they enter school
  • Persons traveling to countries that have high or intermediate rates of hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of street drugs (injecting and non-injecting)
  • Persons who have occupational risk for infection (e.g. persons who work in a research laboratory setting)
  • Persons who have chronic liver disease including hepatitis C or chronic hepatitis B
  • Persons who are either awaiting or have received liver transplants
  • Persons who have clotting-factor disorders
  • Persons who have never had hepatitis A and who are given clotting-factor concentrates, especially solvent detergent-treated preparations
  • All persons with hemophilia
  • Anyone who wants to be protected