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Hepatitis A
(HAV, Hep A)

Hepatitis A Overview

Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver. Inflammation of the liver can result from infection, exposure to alcohol, certain medications, chemicals, poisons, or from a disorder of the immune system.

Hepatitis A refers to liver inflammation caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is one of several viruses that can cause hepatitis, and is one of the three most common hepatitis viruses in the United States. The other two common types are hepatitis B and hepatitis C; however, there are other named types such as D, E, F, and G, and more types may be discovered in the future. Moreover, these infections are somewhat different from hepatitis A, and from each other.

Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic (ongoing, long-term) disease. Although the liver becomes inflamed and swollen, it heals completely in most people without any long-term damage. Once a person contracts hepatitis A, they develop lifelong immunity, and rarely contract the disease again.

Because of the way it is spread, the hepatitis A virus tends to occur in epidemics and outbreaks. As many as 1 in 3 adults (>age 19) in the United States have antibody to HAV , meaning they have been exposed to the virus, but most do not become ill. In 2011, researchers report no significant change in seroprevalence (the frequency of people in a population that have particular antibodies, usually reactive against a disease-producing organism in their blood serum) of HAV antibodies in adults before or after the HAV vaccine became available (see reference 3). The number of cases of hepatitis A in the United States varies among different communities, and has been reduced by the introduction of the hepatitis A vaccine. The rate of infection (number of infections per 100,000 people) has declined since 1999 from 6.3 to 0.9 per 100,000 people (2008 CDC statistics). About 2,500 to 3,600 cases of hepatitis A are reported each year in the U. S., but many more people may be exposed to the virus, but have few, if any, report symptoms. Vaccination at age one year may cause the rate and yearly case numbers of HAV to decline.

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