Hepatitis A

About the vaccine

Did you know?

If you have been potentially exposed to hepatitis A, you should get one shot of vaccine within 14 days of the exposure to prevent disease. This is provided free.

The Hepatitis A vaccine is the best way to protect against hepatitis A infection.

Vaccines are very safe. It's much safer to get the vaccine than to get Hepatitis A. 

Over the last 15 years there have been many outbreaks of hepatitis A in Aboriginal communities in BC, and so the hepatitis A vaccine has been offered to Aboriginal children living both on-reserve and off-reserve since January 1, 2012

Who should get the vaccine? 

The hepatitis A vaccine is provided free in BC to people at high risk of infection, including:

  • Aboriginal children and adolescents aged 6 months to 18 years 
  • Those who have hemophilia or receive repeated infusions of blood or blood products
  • Those who inject illegal drugs or share drug snorting, smoking, or injecting equipment
  • Males who have sex with other males
  • Those with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, or chronic liver disease
  • Those who have had a stem cell transplant
  • Those who will have or have had a liver transplant
  • Inmates of a correctional facility
  • Those who are in close contact with persons infected by the hepatitis A virus –such as people living in the same house, sexual partners, close friends, and children in the same daycare
  • Those who have eaten food prepared by a food handler with hepatitis A infection

The vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free, for people likely to come in contact with or spread the hepatitis A virus, including:

  • Those living, working or travelling in developing countries, particularly in rural areas
  • Food handlers
  • Those with multiple sex partners
  • Residents and staff of institutions for the developmentally challenged with an ongoing problem with hepatitis A infection
  • Zoo-keepers, veterinarians and researchers who handle primates
  • Those involved in research on hepatitis A virus, or the production of hepatitis A vaccine

The free vaccine is available form public health units, doctors' offices and pharmacies (for people 5 years of age and older).  Anyone who is not eligible for a free hepatitis A vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies and travel clinics. Services vary across BC.

For more information about the hepatitis A vaccine, including the benefits, possible reactions after the vaccine and who should not get the vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Hepatitis A Vaccine.

About the disease

  • Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver, caused by the hepatitis A virus
  • Symptoms can be so mild that a person may not be aware that they have the disease. This happens more often in children
  • Symptoms include yellow skin or eyes, loss of appetite, fever, tiredness, stomach ache, or nausea
  • For every 1000 people infected, 1 to 3 will die. The death rate is higher in people 50 years of age and older
  • People with hepatitis A infection who use the bathroom without proper hand washing can pass the virus on to others through food preparation or other hand-to-mouth contact
  • The disease can also be spread by sexual contact, or sharing of equipment for drug use, such as needles or pipes
  • Hepatitis A can also be spread by drinking contaminated water, or by eating raw or under-cooked shellfish, such as crabs, clams, oysters or mussels, that have been contaminated with sewage

Photo courtesy of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. More vaccine preventable disease images