What Is Hepatitis A?
If you have a young child who attends daycare or if you work as a childcare provider, you know how easily illness can spread. Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is easily spread in childcare settings. Learn more about hepatitis A and how it can be prevented.
What Is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can cause flu-like symptoms, like:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
Yellowing of skin and/or eyes
Hepatitis A is often not serious, especially in young children. Symptoms usually last less than two months. In some cases, they may last as long as six months. In rare cases, the virus can cause liver failure and death. This is more common in people older than 50 years of age.
Hepatitis A is spread when the virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects or foods that have been contaminated by the stool of an infected person. In childcare settings, this can happen easily, especially when hands are not washed after changing a soiled diaper.
Young children can have hepatitis A but show only mild symptoms or none at all. Hepatitis A is much more likely to cause symptoms in adults and older children. Because of this, outbreaks of hepatitis A may not be discovered until caregivers begin to show symptoms.
Mild, flu-like symptoms are treated with rest, a balanced diet, and lots of fluids. If you or your child gets hepatitis A, talk to your doctor before taking any medications, including over-the-counter medications or supplements. Some medicines, like acetaminophen, could damage your liver if you take them while infected with hepatitis A.
How Can I Keep My Child Free From Hepatitis A?
If your child goes to daycare, you may be wondering how you can avoid hepatitis A. The best way to do this is to have your child vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for children over 12 months of age and is almost completely protective against this infection.
Another way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A is by practicing good hand hygiene. In addition, follow these steps:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing a child’s diaper.
- If your child is potty-trained, teach handwashing practices, especially after using the bathroom.
- Talk to the staff at the daycare. Ask about their policies for hand washing, food preparation, and diaper changes.
- Carefully dispose of soiled diapers.
If your child is exposed to hepatitis A, take these steps to minimize symptoms and to prevent the virus from spreading to others:
- If recommended by the doctor, have your child receive an injection of immune globulin. This must be given within two weeks of exposure. It can provide temporary immunity for your child.
- If your child is over one year of age and has not been vaccinated, talk to your child’s doctor about the hepatitis A vaccine. Since your child could expose you to infection even without showing signs of illness, consider immunization for yourself and other family members, as well.
- Do not transfer your child to another daycare. This could spread the disease to others.
Your child can safely return to daycare one week after symptoms began. Talk to the daycare center about their policy.
No parent ever likes to see their child sick. And working parents know how difficult it can be to find childcare at the last minute when your child cannot go to their usual daycare because of illness. Follow the tips above for good hand hygiene and make sure your daycare does, too!
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Hepatitis A in daycare. Utah Bureau of Epidemiology website. Available at: http://health.utah.gov/epi/fact_sheets/hepadcc.html. Published August 2001. Accessed October 30, 2013.
Hepatitis A FAQs for the public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/A/aFAQ.htm. Updated May 13, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.
Klevens RM, Miller JT, Iqbal K, et al. The evolving epidemiology of hepatitis a in the United States: incidence and molecular epidemiology from population-based surveillance, 2005-2007. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(20):1811-1818.
Van Herck K, Jacquet JM, Van Damme P. Antibody persistence and immune memory in healthy adults following vaccination with a two-dose inactivated hepatitis A vaccine: long-term follow-up at 15 years. J Med Virol. 2011;83(11):1885-1891.
Viral hepatitis: A through E and beyond. National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/viralhepatitis/. Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2013.
What you can do to stop disease in your child’s day care center. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website. Available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/living/childcare-what-you-can-do.shtml. Updated February 5, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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