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Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a serious disease that used to be more common in the United States. In the 1980s, the United States used to see as many as 30,000 cases a year. Thanks to the vaccine, the number of hepatitis A cases in the United States has dropped by 95%.

There are 2 vaccines that protect against hepatitis A:

  • The hepatitis A vaccine protects infants, children, and adults from hepatitis A
  • The hepatitis A and B combination vaccine protects adults from both hepatitis A and hepatitis B

Because of the vaccine, rates of hepatitis A in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in 40 years. But hepatitis A is still common in other countries, so it’s possible for people to get the disease when they travel.

Most people who get hepatitis A only get a mild form of the disease. But in some cases, hepatitis A can lead to serious liver problems — and even death.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus. Some people with hepatitis A don’t have any symptoms. Other people do develop symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Upset stomach and throwing up
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Dark pee or clay-colored poop
  • Pain in the joints and stomach
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)

Symptoms usually last less than 2 months — but they can last as long as 6 months.

Hepatitis A usually spreads when someone eats or drinks something that has come in contact with the poop of someone with the hepatitis A virus. For example, hepatitis A can spread when someone who has it doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom and then touches food.

Hepatitis A can also spread from person to person through sexual contact. Learn more about hepatitis A.

All children need to get the hepatitis A vaccine — and some adults may need it, too.

Infants and children

All children need to get the hepatitis A vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.

Children need 2 doses of the vaccine at the following ages:

  • 12 through 23 months for the first dose
  • 2 through 4 years for the second dose (or sooner as long as it’s 6 to 18 months after the first dose)

See the routine vaccination schedule for:

Adults at increased risk for hepatitis A

Adults who are at risk for hepatitis A can also get vaccinated. The shot is given in 2 doses — adults get each dose 6 to 18 months apart.

You may be at risk for hepatitis A if you:

  • Travel to a place where it’s common
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use drugs (with or without needles)
  • Are getting treatment for certain bleeding disorders, like hemophilia
  • Adopt a child from a country where hepatitis A is common
  • Work with animals that have hepatitis A — or in a hepatitis A research lab

If you’re age 18 and older and at risk for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, you may be able to get a combination vaccine that protects against both diseases. You may be at risk for both diseases if you:

  • Are traveling to certain countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use drugs

Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from hepatitis A.

Some people should not get the hepatitis A vaccine — or may need to wait to get it. Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine
  • Are sick

Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:

  • Soreness or redness where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired

Serious side effects from the hepatitis A vaccine are very rare. Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the hepatitis A vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the hepatitis A vaccine is much safer than getting hepatitis A. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

Last reviewed: January 2018