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The hepatitis A vaccine has made the disease less common in the U.S. However, outbreaks amongst unvaccinated people still happen. In this article, we explain how hep A impacts people and why the vaccine is so important.


What is the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

The Hepatitis A Vaccine is the best way to prevent the highly contagious liver infection – hepatitis A. The following people should be vaccinated against hepatitis A:1

  • Infants, 12–23 months
  • Anyone who has not previously received the hepatitis A vaccine
  • People at increased risk for hepatitis A (those who inject drugs, at risk for sexual transmission, those with HIV/AIDS, people born outside the U.S., people experiencing diabetes, those who work in health care, men who have unprotected sex with other men and people experiencing homelessness)2
  • People at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A infection
  • Pregnant women

There are two types of hepatitis A vaccines:1

  • Single-dose hepatitis A vaccine (Vaqta®): Given as two shots, six months apart. Both shots are needed for long-term protection against hepatitis A. These are available for any age.
  • Combination vaccine (Engerix-B®): Protects against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Given as three shots over six months. All three shots are needed for long-term protection for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Available for those 18 years and older.

There is no need to repeat the vaccine or to get a booster shot.

man smiling in jacket

Do you need a vaccine before travel? The hep A vaccine should be taken before traveling to any countries where hepatitis A is common. Patients under a year of age or who can’t get vaccinated due to a previous, life-threatening reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine should receive immune globulin. Speak to your provider about your travel plans and vaccine options.

Do children need to be vaccinated? As of August 8, 2023, these states have the following vaccination requirements for Hepatitis A:3

  • Required for childcare and grades K-12: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut ,Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington D.C.
  • Childcare only: Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Virginia.
  • Grades K-12: Indiana and Louisiana.

Exemptions from vaccination requirements may apply for some children. Check with your state and local health department. Note: MedExpress does not offer vaccines to children under seven years of age.

How many cases of hepatitis are there in the U.S.? Since 2016, hepatitis A outbreaks have been sourced to contaminated food and person-to-person transmission through close contact with an infected person. As of September 2023, the CDC states that 37 states have reported 44,910 cases.4

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What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver which can impact its ability to function. It can be caused by toxins, some medications, certain medical conditions and heavy use of alcohol.1 A highly contagious, short-term liver infection variant, hep A may lead to liver failure and even death.

How is it spread? The virus is present in the blood and stool of infected people. It is spread when someone ingests the virus through:1

  • Person-to-person contact: This includes certain types of sexual contact, caring for someone with the virus or sharing drugs and needles.
  • Contaminated food and water: While uncommon, foodborne outbreaks have occurred in the U.S. due to contaminated fresh and frozen imported food.

Beyond getting your vaccination, proper sanitation and taking care of your personal hygiene can help prevent its spread.

Is it contagious? Yes. The virus is very contagious and can be spread by people who haven’t shown any of the symptoms. If you have had hep A in the past, you have already developed antibodies that will protect you for life.

Who is at risk? Anyone can get the virus, but certain groups are at higher risk:1

  • International travelers
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Those who inject drugs
  • Those with an occupational risk for exposure (health care workers, food industry)
  • Those who have adopted a child from another country
  • Those experiencing unsheltered homelessness
  • Those at increased risk for severe disease from hepatitis A infection
  • Those with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Those with HIV

Hepatitis A Symptoms

Symptoms usually develop two to seven months after the infection. They can last less than two months but some may experience them for up to six months.

Symptoms include:1

  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea and stomach pain
  • Dark urine or light-colored stools
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Exhaustion

Adults have symptoms more often than children. However, children and some adults may show no symptoms. However, they are still contagious and may spread the infection.

kids playing on playground

Have you been exposed to the hepatitis A virus? Call your provider or your local or state health department as soon as possible to learn where you can receive the proper treatment based on your age and overall health. If taken within two weeks of exposure, a single shot of the hepatitis A vaccine can help prevent hepatitis A.1


1 CDC. Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public. Last updated July 28, 2020. Accessed September 28, 2023.

2 CDC. Viral Hepatitis Populations and Settings. Last updated September 24, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2023.

3 State Hepatitis A Vaccine Requirements for Childcare and School (Kg-Gr 12) March 2023. Last updated March 1, 2023. Accessed October 9, 2023.

4 CDC. Person-to-person outbreaks of hepatitis A across the United States. Last updated August 7, 2023. Accessed September 28, 2023.

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