Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The infection is spread by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It can also be spread through close person-to-person contact such as household contact with an infected person.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection but there is an effective vaccine. Two doses are needed six to 12 or six to 18 months apart, depending on which vaccine you get, to ensure long-term protection. A combination hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine is also available, but requires three or more doses.
Which adults need hepatitis A vaccine?
- Adults traveling to countries outside the US, except for Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand
- Household members and other close personal contacts of adopted children newly arriving from countries with moderate or high rates of hepatitis A
- People with chronic liver disease
- People who have blood clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia
- Men who have sex with men
- Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs
- People working with HAV-infected primates or HAV in a research laboratory
Hepatitis A vaccine is very safe and effective. You cannot get hepatitis A from the vaccine. Side effects, when they occur, are minimal and may include soreness at the injection site or a headache. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with hepatitis A disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the hepatitis A vaccine. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to hepatitis A vaccine or to any of its components should not receive hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) which can lead to serious health problems in the liver, including liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.
Safe, effective hepatitis B vaccines are available. The vaccination series is usually given as two or three doses over a six-month period. Hepatitis B vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine because it prevents liver cancer caused by chronic HBV infection.
Which adults need hepatitis B vaccine?
- People whose sex partners have hepatitis B
- Any sexually active adult who is not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship
- Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- Those with close household contact with an infected person
- Adults who share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
- Healthcare professionals
Hepatitis B is incurable. A safe, effective vaccine has been available since the 1980s. Vaccination can help protect individuals and contribute to the elimination of this highly infectious disease.
Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective. You cannot get hepatitis B from the vaccine. The most common side effect of the vaccine is soreness at the injection site. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with hepatitis B disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the hepatitis B vaccine.
- FACT: The hepatitis B vaccine prevents liver cancer. Hepatitis B infection can result in chronic (life-long) infection that increases a person’s risk of developing chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- FACT: More than 50 percent of new hepatitis B cases could be prevented if hepatitis B vaccination were routinely offered to everyone attending sexually transmitted disease clinics and to all correctional facility inmates.
- FACT: Even if a person infected with hepatitis B virus does not feel sick, he or she can still infect others.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is a blood-borne virus. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but 75-85 percent of people who become infected with hepatitis C will have a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, even death.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there is effective treatment available which is why testing and early detection is crucial. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs and sharing needles.
Updated May 9, 2020
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Shareable infographic describing who is at risk for hepatitis B