Is Your Teen Vaccinated Against Hepatitis A?

What you need to know about protecting your teen from a highly contagious liver infection.

Medically reviewed in June 2021

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. The most common causes of hepatitis are viral infections. The most commonly reported of these viral infections are caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which had over 18,000 reported infections and over 37,000 estimated infections in 2019. HAV also had a 1,325-percent increase in incidence from 2015 to 2019.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that can protect a person from hepatitis A. The vaccine is typically given when a person is between 12 and 23 months old, but it’s recommended for anyone 18 an under who has not been vaccinated. It is also recommended for adults over the age of 18 who are not previously vaccinated and are at an increased risk of hepatitis A.

Below, we look at what you need to know about hepatitis A and the HepA vaccine.

Hepatitis A transmission
Hepatitis A is primarily spread through exposure to fecal matter. While reading up on viral hepatitis transmission, you’ll nearly always see mention of activities like drug use and sex, and hepatitis A can and does spread in these ways.

But it can also spread through something as simple as a person touching a surface contaminated with very small amounts of fecal matter (such as a household or public restroom) and then biting their nails. The virus can also be spread when food and beverages become contaminated with fecal matter.

Being in close contact with someone who has hepatitis A can also cause someone to become infected. One of the reasons that the HepA vaccine is recommended at such a young age (12 to 23 months) is that infections are often asymptomatic in children under the age of six. And people with asymptomatic infections can spread the virus to other people.

Hepatitis infection
Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infections do not become chronic. A typical hepatitis A infection resolves within three months, nearly all resolve within six months, and infections typically do not cause lasting liver damage (cases that result in liver failure and death are rare, usually affecting people who are over 50 and have other liver conditions).

However, a hepatitis A infection can cause a person to be ill for several weeks. Symptoms can include fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, yellow skin and eyes, and low-grade fever. And while a person has a hepatitis A infection, they can spread the virus to other people—and can be contagious up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

Is your teen vaccinated?
While most people in the United States are vaccinated during their second year of life, people sometimes miss vaccines, or miss the recommended doses of a vaccine. If you are uncertain if your teen is up to date on their recommended vaccinations, the best thing you can do is check with your teen’s current healthcare providers and any healthcare providers they have seen in the past.

If it turns out that your teen has gaps in their recommended vaccinations, their healthcare provider can put together a “catch up” schedule to get immunizations up to date.

Some facts about the HepA vaccine:

  • In people under the age of 18, the HepA vaccine requires two shots, given six months apart.
  • No serious side effects have been reported from the HepA vaccine. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site.
  • There are two different HepA vaccines available in the U.S. Both are inactivated vaccines (they do not contain live, weakened viruses). Make sure to get a copy of the prescription for your records, which will have the name of the vaccine used.
  • People should not receive the HepA vaccine if they are allergic to any of the ingredients in the HepA vaccine. Always discuss any allergies and history of allergic reactions with your healthcare provider.
  • The vaccine can be administered at a healthcare provider’s office or at a local pharmacy.

If you have any questions about the HepA vaccine (or any other vaccines) your best source of answers and information will be your family’s healthcare providers, such as your pediatrician or pharmacist.

Article sources open article sources

MedlinePlus. "Hepatitis."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Viral Hepatitis Surveillance Report 2019."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis A VIS."
Immunization Action Coalition. "Foodborne Hepatitis A Outbreaks in the U.S. Are Well-documented; Vaccine Provides Lifetime Protection."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Hepatitis A."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Vaccine (Shot) for Hepatitis A."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Viral Hepatitis A and E."
healthychildren.org. "Hepatitis A Vaccine: What You Need to Know."
Mayo Clinic. "Hepatitis A."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "U.S. Vaccine Names."
Sara Ryding. "What is an Inactivated Vaccine?" News Medical. March 17, 2021.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Hepatitis A Vaccine."

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