Hepatitis A is an acute infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. The seriousness of the disease can vary. Some people, especially small children, may not show any symptoms even though they may have the virus and can pass it onto others. The disease is usually more serious in adults than in children.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Management of people infected with the virus aims to treat the symptoms of the infection.
There is a safe and effective vaccine for protection against hepatitis A infection.
Immunisation is recommended and the vaccine provided free, as part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Queensland. The vaccine is given at 18 months of age, with a booster at 2 years of age.
The vaccine is also recommended (but not funded) for people at high risk of exposure to the disease, such as:
- travellers to and Australians living in countries where hepatitis A is common
- those working in rural and remote Indigenous communities
- child care and preschool staff
- the intellectually disabled and their carers
- healthcare workers who regularly provide care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
- plumbers or sewage workers
- sex workers
- men who have sex with men
- injecting drug users
- people with chronic liver disease
- people chronically infected with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses.
Adults require two doses. It is important that all recommended doses of the vaccine are received at the recommended times, if it is to be fully effective.
To avoid unccessary vaccination, it is recommended that the following groups of people have a blood test to check for a pre-existing natural immunity to hepatitis A:
- those born before 1950
- those who spent their early childhood in endemic areas
- those with an unexplained previous episode of hepatitis or jaundice.
If the blood test shows that the person is already immune, hepatitis A vaccination is not needed.
Possible side effects of the vaccine
Like all medications, vaccines may have side effects. Most side effects are minor, last a short time and do not lead to any long-term problems.
Possible side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine may include redness and soreness where the injection was given, headache, fatigue and tiredness. More serious side effects are extremely rare and can include severe allergic reactions.
Contact your immunisation provider if you or your child has a reaction following vaccination which you consider serious or unexpected.
This checklist helps your doctor/nurse decide about vaccinating you or your child.
Please tell your doctor/nurse if the person about to be vaccinated:
- is unwell today
- has a disease which lowers immunity (eg. leukaemia, cancer, HIV/AIDS) or is having treatment which lowers immunity (eg. oral steroid medicines such as cortisone and prednisone, radiotherapy, chemotherapy)
- has had a severe reaction following any vaccine
- has any severe allergies (to anything)
- has had any vaccine in the past month
- has had an injection of immunoglobulin, or received any blood products or a whole blood transfusion within the past year
- is pregnant
- has a past history of Guillain-Barre syndrome
- was a preterm infant
- has a chronic illness
- has a bleeding disorder.
A different vaccine schedule may be recommended if the person to be vaccinated:
- identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
- does not have a functioning spleen
- is planning a pregnancy or anticipating parenthood
- is a parent, grandparent or carer of a newborn
- lives with someone who has a disease which lowers immunity (eg. leukaemia, cancer, HIV/AIDS), or lives with someone who is having treatment which lowers immunity (eg. oral steroid medicines such as cortisone and prednisone, radiotherapy, chemotherapy).
Care after vaccination
- For redness or swelling at the injection site, apply a cold compress.
- To lower temperature or relieve discomfort, paracetamol may be given.
- If fever persists, consult your doctor.
- If any reaction occurs that you consider serious or unexpected, seek medical advice.
- Contact the service provider if you or your child has a reaction following vaccination.
Where can I be immunised?
You can be immunised at your local doctor or medical centre. Some councils, community child health and community health centres hold free immunisation clinics. Check with them for details.
A website about childhood immunisation produced by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing.
Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing
Information about communicable diseases including vaccine preventable diseases.
Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR)
A website about the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR), produced by Medicare Australia.
Heymann, D., ed. 2004. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 18th edition. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
National Health and Medical Research Council, 2008. The Australian Immunisation Handbook (9th Ed)
For further information please contact:
- your doctor
- your nearest population health unit
- 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
- Immunise Australia National Infoline: 1800 671 811.
Last updated: 4 March, 2011