Hepatitis Vaccines

Hepatitis A, B, and C (HAV, HBV, HCV) are three distinct viruses that attack the liver. HAV causes only acute or recently acquired infection, while hepatitis B and hepatitis C can cause chronic infection. Currently there are no vaccines for HCV infection, while vaccines do exist to protect people from HAV and HBV infections.

Hepatitis A Vaccines

For adults and older children, hepatitis A vaccine is injected into the upper arm, for toddlers in the thigh muscle. The most common side effect is a sore arm, while less common side effects include low-grade fever, headaches, loss of appetite, or fatigue. Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to hepatitis A vaccine in the past should not receive it.

Hepatitis A vaccine is considered safe and effective and is recommended for any person age 12 months and older. Two doses of hepatitis A vaccine are recommended for full protection, with the second dose administered at least six months after the first dose.

It is recommended that the following people receive hepatitis A vaccine:

  • All children over 12 months of age
  • Injection drug users
  • People who have unprotected sex and multiple partners
  • People with chronic liver disease
  • People who have blood clotting disorders
  • People over 12 months of age who are traveling to an area in the world other than the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia
  • People who work with HAV in a research setting

Hepatitis B Vaccines

There are currently two HBV vaccines, known as recombinant DNA vaccines, used in the United States. Hepatitis B vaccine should be given to all individuals, including infants from birth.

Hepatitis B vaccine is usually a three-dose series. Anyone who did not receive the recommended hepatitis B vaccinations during childhood should complete their vaccine series as soon as possible. Most schools in the Western world require hepatitis B vaccines as a prerequisite for entry into the school system. In addition, adults who may be at increased risk of acquiring HBV infection should also be vaccinated. Some of these groups include:

  • Injection drug users
  • Sexually active people who are not in mutually monogamous, long-term relationships
  • Anyone being treated for a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Healthcare or public safety workers who are at risk of being exposed to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids
  • People with end-stage kidney disease
  • People who travel internationally to regions with high rates of HBV infection
  • Anyone who wishes to be protected from HBV infection (even with no special risk factor)

Most people who receive the vaccine have no side effects. Mild side effects can include soreness at the site of injection or low-grade fever. People who experience an allergic reaction to one dose of hepatitis B vaccine should not have another dose, and people with a history of hypersensitivity to yeast should not receive this vaccine. After three proper doses, over 90% of individuals are thereafter immune to HBV infection.

Hepatitis A, B and C Vaccines

All three types of hepatitis are caused by different viruses and each requires its own distinct treatment. If a person has had one type of hepatitis, it is still possible to get the other types.

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