What options can help to prevent hepatitis A?
The spread of hepatitis A can be reduced by: 1
- Adequate supplies of safe drinking water
- Proper disposal of sewage within communities
- Personal hygiene practices such as regular hand-washing with safe water
Several hepatitis A vaccines are available internationally. All are similar in terms of how well they protect people from the virus and their side effects. No vaccine is licensed for children younger than 1 year of age.
Who should be vaccinated?
In areas where the virus is widespread (high endemicity), most hepatitis A infections occur during early childhood. 1
Some countries recommend the vaccine for people at increased risk of
hepatitis A, including: 1
- Travellers to countries where the virus is endemic
- Men who have sex with men
- People with chronic liver disease (because of their increased risk of serious complications if they acquire hepatitis A infection)
Regarding immunisation for outbreak response, recommendations for hepatitis A vaccination should also be site-specific, including the feasibility of rapidly implementing a widespread immunisation campaign. 1
Vaccination to control community-wide outbreaks is most successful in small communities, when the campaign is started early and when high coverage of multiple age groups is achieved. Vaccination efforts should be supplemented by health education to improve sanitation, hygiene practices and food safety. 1
How is an outbreak of hepatitis A managed?
Further outbreaks of HAV are expected to occur in the EU. The experience of the 2013 outbreak demonstrates the absolute necessity for extensive collaboration between countries and between the public-health and food sectors to identify as quickly as possible the vehicle of infection and, ideally, to control the outbreak in a timely fashion. 2
Success of intervention in community outbreaks and epidemics through active HAV vaccination requires a close public-health surveillance and intervention system and, most importantly, compliance of the community where intervention takes place. 3
- WHO. Hepatitis A Fact Sheet 328, 2014. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs328/en/. Last accessed June 2015.
- Gossner CM, Severi E. Three simultaneous, food-borne, multi-country outbreaks of hepatitis A virus infection reported in EPIS-FWD in 2013: what does it mean for the European Union? Euro Surveill 2014;19:1-5. Available at: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20941. Last accessed June 2015.
- WHO. The immunological basis for immunization series. Module 18: Hepatitis A. 2011. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789241501422_eng.pdf. Last accessed June 2015.