The three most common types of hepatitis, a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver, are those caused by the hepatitis A, B, and C viruses. All viral types are contagious—that is, they can be spread from one person to another—although the methods of transmission vary.
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NYU Langone doctors recommend specific preventive steps for each type to limit your risk of acquiring or spreading infection.
Vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are the most effective preventive measures against those viruses. These vaccines have been a part of routine healthcare for babies since the 1990s.
These vaccines can be administered to people of any age. If you were not vaccinated as a baby, it is fine to be vaccinated now. Vaccination provides long-term protection from infection. Even if you have recently been exposed to the hepatitis A or B virus, these vaccines may prevent infection. Ideally, vaccination takes place within 24 hours of a possible exposure.
Hepatitis B vaccination also helps protect against hepatitis D, since only people infected with hepatitis B can get hepatitis D.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Our doctors recommend adopting certain behaviors—such as avoiding shared needles and other risk factors—to prevent infection.
To protect against hepatitis E, avoid drinking unpurified water and eating undercooked meat when traveling in countries where the virus is common. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a hepatitis E vaccine.
If you plan to travel to a country where hepatitis A is common and you were not vaccinated already, which most likely occurred when you were a baby, NYU Langone doctors strongly recommend getting a hepatitis A vaccine before you go. The vaccine consists of two injections administered six months apart. Even if you plan a last-minute trip and have time to get only the first injection, the vaccine provides some protection. You can get the second injection when you return.
Side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine include soreness where the shot was given, headache, and tiredness. You cannot get hepatitis A from the hepatitis A vaccine. Rarely, this vaccine may cause an allergic reaction within a few minutes or hours of the injection. If you experience a sudden start of flu-like symptoms after being vaccinated, contact your doctor immediately.
If you are not fully vaccinated at the time of travel, talk to your doctor or one of our experts who treat travel-related infections. Certain travelers, including people over 40 and those who have a compromised immune system, chronic liver disease, or a chronic medical condition, may be at greater risk of developing hepatitis A. An injection called immune globulin, which provides immediate, temporary protection against infection in general, may be recommended, especially if you are traveling in less than 2 weeks.
Your doctor may also recommend immune globulin if you have not been vaccinated but are exposed to hepatitis A. Immune globulin may reduce the severity of infection when given shortly after exposure.
Hepatitis B vaccination is available to all. The vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and for children, adolescents, and adults through age 59 who were not vaccinated as babies. Older adults with risk factors for hepatitis B should get vaccinated too. Adults 60 and older without risk factors may be given the vaccine and should discuss this with their doctor.
Hepatitis B vaccination consists of two, three, or, in rare cases, four injections, depending on the vaccine type, a person’s age, and health status. All babies born to people with chronic hepatitis B should receive hepatitis B immune globulin and hepatitis B vaccination within 12 hours after birth.
If you plan to travel to a country where hepatitis B is common, doctors recommend starting the vaccination process at least six months beforehand to ensure full protection. Before travel, talk to your doctor or a travel medicine expert about your prior vaccination status and risk of developing hepatitis B.
Side effects of the hepatitis B vaccination are rare, but you may feel soreness where the injection was given. The hepatitis B vaccine cannot cause a hepatitis B infection.
Ensuring good hygiene and avoiding contact with contaminated objects or bodily fluids can protect against infection by any of the hepatitis viruses.
Hepatitis A is spread through close contact with an infected person or contact with water and food contaminated by stool, which may occur in places with poor sanitation. If you travel to a country where hepatitis A is common, doctors recommend avoiding tap water, fresh fruit and vegetables unless they can be peeled, as well as frequently washing your hands.
Hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids, including blood and semen. Practicing safe sex can help prevent infection. The hepatitis B virus can also live outside the body for up to seven days, so avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, or needles. Tattoos and piercings can also spread this infection if the needles used aren’t sterile.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with contaminated blood. The best prevention is to avoid sharing needles, which can transfer small amounts of blood from one person to another. Contact with anything that has contaminated blood on it—such as a tissue, a bandage, or hands and fingers—can spread the virus. Safe sex and good hygiene can also protect you from infection.
Hepatitis D only infects people with hepatitis B. It is spread through blood, semen, and saliva from an infected person. You can reduce your risk of hepatitis D by practicing safe sex. Also, avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, and needles with other people.
Hepatitis E is spread through water and food that are contaminated with stool. To reduce your risk of infection, doctors recommend drinking bottled water when traveling in countries where hepatitis E is common and avoiding tap water when brushing your teeth, making ice, and rinsing fruits and vegetables. In the United States the most prevalent strain of hepatitis E can be acquired by consuming undercooked pork, wild boar, and deer. To avoid risk of infection, make sure these foods are cooked thoroughly.
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