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Hepatitis A Vaccine Advised for Toddlers

CDC Committee Expands Recommendation to Include All U.S. States
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 31, 2005 -- A CDC advisory committee is recommending that all children in the U.S. be vaccinated against hepatitis A.

In 1999, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the hepatitis A vaccine for all children living in the 11 states with the country's highest rates of hepatitis A. At the time, the committee also recommended considering the vaccine in six other states with high rates of the disease.

Now, the committee's recommendations on childhood vaccination are going nationwide.

The new recommendations need to be approved before being added to the U.S. routine childhood vaccination schedule. Until then, they will be posted as interim recommendations, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell tells WebMD.

The committee's recommendation is for children to receive the first of two doses of the vaccine when they are between 1 and 2 years old.

There is "certainly no reason" why parents can't act on the recommendations now, says Russell.

Goal: Stop the Spread of Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus, the most common form of viral hepatitis.

"Routine vaccination of children is the most effective way to reduce the incidence of hepatitis A," says Steve Cochi, MD, MPH, in the news release.

"This recommendation is an important step toward the total elimination of the transmission of hepatitis A virus in the United States," Cochi continues.

Cochi is the acting director of the CDC's National Immunization Program.

How Is Hepatitis A Spread?

Hepatitis A usually causes temporary liver inflammation. Most people recover without any long-term liver problems.

The virus is mainly spread by oral contact with feces containing the virus. In the U.S., most people become infected through contact with a household member who has the virus (such as from changing a diaper) or a sex partner who is infected.

The virus may incubate for two to seven weeks before symptoms appear.

Symptoms may include extreme tiredness, fever, sore muscles, headache, pain on the right side of the stomach under the rib cage, nausea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Some patients may also develop jaundice -- yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eyes, sometimes with dark urine or clay-colored stools.

Jaundice is more common in older people than among children and young adults.

About the Vaccine

The hepatitis A vaccine was approved in 1995.

Reported cases of hepatitis A are far rarer than in the past. In 2004 there were 5,683 cases in the U.S. -- the lowest number ever reported, says the CDC.

Men aged 25-39 now have the nation's highest rates of hepatitis A. That's according to a July report in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers wrote that eliminating the transmission of hepatitis A would require expanding vaccination to cover all U.S. children.

The hepatitis A vaccine isn't just for kids. It's also recommended for these groups:

  • People who travel to countries with high rates of hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Illegal drug users
  • People with chronic liver disease

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