Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral illness that attacks the liver. Unlike hepatitis B and C, it is not transmitted via sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This one is fecal-oral spread. That’s right – you get this from eating someone else’s poop, which is easier than you think. Typically we see outbreaks of HepA from communal food sources like salad bars and sushi restaurants. Avoiding this one means depending on all the people who ever touch your food to have washed their hands. You think that always happens? Yeah, me neither. Hence the vaccine. Until fairly recently this was one of those travel vaccines, but since we were seeing more and more cases in the US, it was added to the standard childhood vaccination schedule.
After an incubation period of 2-3 weeks, the symptoms of Hepatitis A emerge, including fever, malaise (that’s our medical word for “everything hurts, I’m really tired and I feel like crud on a cracker”), nausea, diarrhea, and often jaundice (about 70% of cases). Most patients recover from hepatitis unscathed but hospitalization is not uncommon and potential complications include fulminant hepatitis leading to liver failure and death. The risk of this complication is really low, but the risks of getting the vaccine are . . . crickets chirping . . . like nothing. Some of the vaccines we use are known to have risk of serious complications but this isn’t one of those. The HepA vaccine is one of the safest vaccines we’ve got, so no worries. Keep calm and vax on.

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