Hepatitis A

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American family physician


Hepatitis A is a common viral infection worldwide that is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. The incidence of infection in the United States decreased by more than 90% after an effective vaccine was introduced, but the number of cases has been increasing because of large community outbreaks in unimmunized individuals. Classic symptoms include fever, malaise, dark urine, and jaundice and are more common in older children and adults. People are most infectious 14 days before and seven days after the development of jaundice. Diagnosis of acute infection requires the use of serologic testing for immunoglobulin M anti-hepatitis A antibodies. The disease is usually self-limited, supportive care is often sufficient for treatment, and chronic infection or chronic liver disease does not occur. Routine hepatitis A immunization is recommended in children 12 to 23 months of age. Immunization is also recommended for individuals at high risk of contracting the infection, such as persons who use illegal drugs, those who travel to areas endemic for hepatitis A, incarcerated populations, and persons at high risk of complications from hepatitis A, such as those with chronic liver disease or HIV infection. The vaccine is usually recommended for pre- and postexposure prophylaxis, but immune globulin can be used in patients who are too young to be vaccinated or if the vaccine is contraindicated.

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