Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are two members of a family of closely related diseases -- the others being hepatitis C, D, and E -- that are caused by a viral infection. Although the virus that causes each is different - along with their modes of transmission -- the diseases are similar. Hepatitis is marked by liver inflammation, and the consequences of getting the disease are potentially serious and, in some cases, fatal.
Although there are no vaccines for hepatitis C, D, or E, there are safe and effective vaccines that can prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B. There is even a combination vaccine that can protect against both diseases.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free children’s preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests. Learn more.
Hepatitis A is an acute liver disease that's caused by the hepatitis A virus or HAV. To say it's acute means it comes on suddenly and usually has a sharp rise and short course -- and so doesn't linger.
The virus is present in the stool of someone who has the disease and is commonly spread by close personal contact. If one member of a family has hepatitis A, he or she can easily pass the disease to others living in the same household. Commonly associated with unsanitary conditions, the virus can also be spread through ingesting food or water that's been contaminated with HAV. Although it's less common, it's also possible for the virus to be passed on in blood from an infected person.
Symptoms of HAV infection include a mild flu-like illness, jaundice, and severe stomach pains and diarrhea. Approximately 20% of people with symptoms need to be hospitalized, and three to five people out of every 1,000 cases die from the disease. Most children -- about 90% -- under the age of 6 who develop hepatitis A are symptom-free. But even though they don't appear to be ill, the virus is still present in their stool, and they can pass the disease on to others.
Once a person has had hepatitis A, he or she develops a natural lifelong immunity. However, if you've had hepatitis A, it's still possible for you to get other types of hepatitis, such as B or C.