Hepatitis A Vaccine Protects You and Your Baby

Parents watching baby daughter make first steps

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting the hepatitis A vaccine. Babies infected with hepatitis A may not show any symptoms, and can pass the virus on to unvaccinated adults who can get very sick.

What is Hepatitis A, and How Does It Spread?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. When symptoms are apparent, it can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can even cause death in some people. Hepatitis A virus is found in the stool (poop) of a person who has the virus. It can spread when:

  • Infected persons do not wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom and then touch objects or food
  • Caregivers do not properly wash their hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person

Baby handing cup to caregiver in daycare setting
Babies who are infected with hepatitis A can spread the virus to their caretakers who contact their infected stool (poop).

Babies and Hepatitis A

Babies can get hepatitis A by putting contaminated objects or hands or food in their mouths. Hepatitis A spreads easily, even when people use good hand washing practices. Babies can pass hepatitis A infection to their caregivers who come in contact with the virus from diapers or stool. That’s why the hepatitis A (hepA) vaccine provides the best protection for everyone!

Why Should Your Baby Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

Hepatitis A infection rates have declined more than 95 percent since the hepatitis A vaccine first became available in 1995.

The hepatitis A vaccine:

  • Protects your child from hepatitis A, a potentially serious disease.
  • Protects other people from the disease. This is because children under 6 years old with hepatitis A usually don’t have symptoms, but they can still pass the disease to others.
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your sick child).

When Should Your Baby Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

Babies need 2 doses of hepatitis A vaccine for lasting protection from hepatitis A infection. Your baby should get:

  • The first dose between the ages of 12 and 23 months
  • The second dose 6 months after the first dose
Should Adults Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?

Adults can get the vaccine if they haven’t received it before and would like protection. In fact there are outbreaks of hepatitis A occurring around the U.S. from people who never got vaccinated.  CDC recommends hepatitis A vaccination for certain groups, including:

  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sexual encounters with other men
  • People with long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • People who use drugs, whether injected or not
  • People experiencing homelessness

Hepatitis A Symptoms

Not everyone has symptoms. When hepatitis A symptoms do develop, they usually appear 2 to 6 weeks after infection. They can include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite (not wanting to eat)
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

Babies and children under 6 years old who get the virus often don’t have any symptoms, so it can be hard to tell if your baby has hepatitis A. Babies not showing symptoms can still pass the disease to others, including their unvaccinated parents or caregivers. When older children or adults get the disease from an unvaccinated child, they can get very sick. They can have symptoms that last up to 6 months, and they may need hospital care.

The Hepatitis A Vaccine is Safe

The hepatitis A vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing hepatitis A infection. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Serious side effects caused by the hepatitis A vaccine are extremely rare. The most common side effects are usually mild and last 1 or 2 days. They include:

  • Sore arm from the shot
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

To learn more about hepatitis A and your child’s hepatitis A vaccine, talk with your child’s doctor or visit CDC’s hepatitis A disease page for parents.

For more in-depth information about hepatitis A and the adult hepatitis A vaccine, visit CDC’s viral hepatitis A page

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Page last reviewed: March 7, 2019