Anyone can get hepatitis A. It's a disease caused by a virus, the hepatitis A virus, that only needs a liver to infect. Since everyone has a liver (and needs one in order to live), everyone is at risk. However, some people are at a higher risk for being exposed to the virus and should take steps to protect themselves.
If you can answer yes to any of the questions below, you should look into getting a hepatitis A vaccine. Aside from good hand washing, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from getting hepatitis A.
Do You Have a Chronic Liver Disease?
People with chronic liver diseases, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C, already have a weakened liver and should protect themselves from other liver diseases. You want to do what you can to prevent your liver from being damaged further by another hepatitis virus. Just because you have one type of viral hepatitis, doesn't mean you can't get a different type of viral hepatitis. Though hepatitis A generally isn't a big problem for most people, it can be for people co-infected with another virus.
Do You Travel?
If you travel to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A, you are at high risk for hepatitis A infection. The following countries and continents have high rates of hepatitis A infection.
- South America
- Southern Asia (all of Asia and Eastern Europe has at least an intermediate rate)
- Indonesia and surrounding islands
Since hepatitis A virus spreads easily through dirty water, countries with a developing water system puts travelers at risk. Even if you don't drink the water, you could be exposed to the virus by eating shellfish, fruits or vegetables. So, instead of fasting during your travels, just vaccinate!
Are You a Man Who Has Sex With Men?
Men who have sex with men, or anyone who has anal sex, are at higher risk of being exposed to hepatitis A. This is because the hepatitis A is spread through the feces of infected people. Of course, wearing a condom and good hygiene significantly reduces exposure, but since the hepatitis A vaccine is safe and inexpensive, it's a good reason to get it.
Do You Use Intravenous Drugs?
Hepatitis A isn't spread through infected blood, like hepatitis B and C are, but IV drug users and users of non-injection illegal drugs are at a high risk of exposure to hepatitis A. Some likely reasons for this risk of exposure are person-to-person spread, poor hygiene and possibly ingesting drugs contaminated with the virus.
Do You Work With Animals or In a Research Lab?
If you work in a lab that does research on the hepatitis A virus or work with animals that are known to have hepatitis A, you should be vaccinated. Of course, this will probably be a work-related requirement that is already done, but you should make certain.
Are You Treated With Clotting-factor Concentrates?
Clotting-factor concentrates is a treatment for hemophiliacs and people with certain types of bleeding disorders. Clotting factors are proteins found in blood plasma that helps the blood to clot, which are necessary after any cut. Hemophiliacs don't have enough of these clotting factors so they receive them by injection from donated blood. While it goes against intuition, the risk of exposure to a blood-borne virus like hepatitis C or HIV is very, very small. However exposure to hepatitis A has a higher risk when using clotting factors from donated blood. So, it's a good choice to get vaccinated.
Do You Have Young Children?
Children should be vaccinated for hepatitis A around their first birthday (between 12 and 23 months) and the vaccines will offer up to 20 years of protection against hepatitis A. While vaccinations in children is controversial for a few parents, immunization is absolutely the best way to prevent certain diseases that could cause serious complications. Of course, children living in some areas will be at higher risk for hepatitis A exposure than children living in other areas, so if you're unsure about whether your child should be vaccinated, talk with your doctor or nurse. No matter where you live, it's a good idea and perfectly safe to vaccinate your child for hepatitis A.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 23, 2008. Viral Hepatitis.
National Network for Immunization Information. February 10, 2006. Vaccine Information for Hepatitis A.