What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A, also called “hep A,” is a virus that causes liver disease. It is spread through contact with an infected person’s feces (poop), usually when someone unknowingly ingests food or drinks contaminated by undetected amounts of feces from an infected person. It can also be spread from close contact with an infected person, such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill. It is most easily prevented through careful hand-washing, particularly after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, and before preparing or serving food.
Hepatitis A is rarely fatal, and most people recover completely without liver damage or other symptoms. The virus typically causes illness in a person for fewer than two months, but some people may have symptoms for as long as six months. Symptoms can be mild or severe and include: vomiting, fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), nausea, dark urine, loss of appetite, fatigue, clay-colored stools, and joint pain. Many children under six-years old do not show any symptoms but can still spread the virus.
The hepatitis A virus can live outside the body for months. It can be killed by high temperatures (such as boiling or cooking foods for at least one minute at 185°F or hotter) but not by cold temperatures (such as by freezing food).
Why is everyone talking about hepatitis A now?
You may have heard discussion about hepatitis A lately for two reasons:
- There is a hepatitis A outbreak in the state of Kentucky, and Mason County is one of the 14* counties affected. Click here to read The Ledger Independent‘s coverage of the current outbreak.
- Hepatitis A vaccination is now mandatory for students in the state of Kentucky, under a new state regulation that went into effect on June 21, 2017. This new regulation requires all children to be vaccinated for hepatitis A prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school-year. Click here or here to read The Herald-Leader’s coverage of the new regulations, or keep reading to learn more about the hepatitis A vaccine.
*as of November 20, 2017.
How is hepatitis A prevented?
Hepatitis A, like many diseases, can be prevented through good hand-washing.
It can also be prevented through the hepatitis A vaccine, which is available at the health department for both adults and children. This vaccine has been recommended for children for many years, and will be mandatory for students in the 2018-2019 school-year. The new regulation applies to children attending child daycare centers, certified family childcare homes, preschool programs, and public and private primary and secondary schools, as well as children who are home-schooled but participate in public or private school activities, including those schools’ sports teams.
The hepatitis A vaccine must be administered in two doses, given six months apart. In order to be fully vaccinated before the start of the next school year in mid-August, it is important that children receive the first of the two shots by January or February 2018.
- Click here to view the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s frequently asked questions about hepatitis A.
- Click here to read the text of Kentucky Administrative Regulation 2:060, which mandates hepatitis A vaccination for students.
- Click here to view a printable information sheet about hepatitis A.