Hepatitis is a condition that is characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the liver tissues. The liver is the largest organ in the human body and is the site where important proteins are made. It also produces bile—a greenish fluid stored in the gallbladder that aids in digestion.

Viral hepatitis is the most common form of hepatitis, in which specific viruses infect the liver cells and cause damage. There are three viral forms of hepatitis.

  1. Hepatitis A: Caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), it spreads through contaminated water or from close contact with an infected person.
  2. Hepatitis B: Transmitted mainly through blood, semen and vaginal secretions, this form of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
  3. Hepatitis C: Caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), it is contracted by contact with infected human blood.

Vaccination can help prevent most forms of viral hepatitis. However, one needs to know when to get the vaccine, who shouldn’t take it and understand any risks (if any) associated with the vaccine.

1) Hepatitis A Vaccine
Unlike the other forms of viral hepatitis, the hepatitis A virus does not cause long-term liver damage. However, in some rare cases it could cause loss of liver function, especially in older people or people who have chronic liver disease. Acute liver failure may need hospitalization followed by continuous monitoring and treatment. Getting a hepatitis A vaccine could prevent the risk of any liver damage.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

  • Children and adolescents from ages one to 18 who live in communities that have a high incidence of the disease. The child should get his/her first dose between 12 and 23 months of age
  • An adult or child above the age of one traveling to a country that has a high prevalence of hepatitis A, such as Central or South America, Asia (except Japan), Mexico, Africa and eastern Europe. Get vaccinated at least a month before the date of travel
  • People who use intravenous drugs (drugs that are directly injected into the bloodstream)
  • Gay and bisexual men
  • People who have chronic liver disease
  • People undergoing treatment with clotting factor concentrates (compounds that encourage clotting of the blood)
  • High risk individuals—people who interact with infected patients, who work with HAV-infected primates or in HAV research laboratories

Hepatitis A vaccine is not administered to babies less than one year. A person receives two doses of the vaccine at a gap of six months.

Who Shouldn’t Get The Hepatitis A Vaccine?

  • Those who’ve had a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of hepatitis A vaccine
  • If you have any severe allergy (including one to latex), you should tell your doctor. The hepatitis A vaccines may contain alum or 2-phenoxyethanol—both of which can trigger allergic reactions
  • If you are ill when the vaccination is scheduled, get vaccinated after you have fully recovered
  • If you are pregnant, inform your doctor. Your doctor will weigh the risks and decide whether to wait or administer the vaccine

Possible Risks Associated With The Hepatitis A Vaccine
Like any other vaccine, the hepatitis A vaccines does have the potential to cause side effects such as a severe allergic reaction. However, the risk of severe damage or death is extremely low.

Post vaccination, a few people may experience mild discomfort such as headaches, loss of appetite and fatigue. Rare but serious side effects could include a severe allergic reaction that begins a few minutes to a few hours after the shot such as high fever, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, wheezing, paleness, hives, palpitations, fatigue or dizziness. Visit your doctor if you notice these symptoms

2) Hepatitis B Vaccine
This vaccine protects you from the hepatitis B virus that can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. It can be administered along with other vaccines and offers long-term protection from liver infection, possibly lifelong.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?
Infants normally get three doses of hepatitis B vaccine—the first dose at birth, the second dose at one to two months and the third dose at six to 18 months.

In case of adults, anyone who didn’t get the vaccine earlier should be vaccinated. Adults are administered the vaccine in three doses. The second dose is given within four weeks of the first dose. The third dose is administered after five months of the second dose

Who Is At Risk For Hepatitis B?

  • People who take drugs intravenously
  • Sex with multiple partners or a person infected with hepatitis B
  • Gay men
  • People with chronic liver or kidney disease
  • People under 60 years of age with diabetes
  • Jobs which expose people to human blood or other fluids (such as at hospitals or a lab)
  • Patients undergoing kidney dialysis
  • People who travel to countries where hepatitis B is prevalent
  • Adults above the age of 60 and those who have diabetes
  • Household contacts of people infected with hepatitis B
  • People with an HIV infection
  • Pregnant women who are at risk for one of the reasons stated above

Who Shouldn’t Get The Hepatitis B Vaccine?

  • People who have had an allergic reaction to the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine
  • If you are moderately or severely ill (you can get vaccinated after you recover)
  • If you have an allergy to yeast, or to any other component of the vaccine

3) Hepatitis C Vaccine
The development of a hepatitis C vaccine is still being researched and there is no vaccine currently available for it.

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