Most of the time when people are talking about Hepatitis as a sexually transmitted disease, they’re discussing Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. However, Hepatitis A can also be sexually transmitted.
Although Hepatitis A is primarily transmitted by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated with fecal matter, and thus is associated with travel to countries without reliable access to clean water, it can also be transmitted through sexual contact.
Furthermore, sexual transmission isn’t limited to oral-anal contact (a.k.a. rimming). Hepatitis A can be transmitted during other activities as well, and may be a particular risk for individuals infected with HIV.
Fortunately, Hepatitis A is highly preventable through vaccination. Safe, effective Hepatitis A vaccines have been available for a number of years. In children, the vaccine is given as two shots over a period of 6 months. In adults, it is given as a combination Hepatitis A/Hepatitis B vaccine in three shots over a period of six months
Who Should Be Vaccinated for Hepatitis A?
As of November 2014, the CDC recommends Hepatitis A vaccination for the following groups of people:
- All children at 1 year of age
- People traveling to countries with high rates of Hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with other men (MSM)
- Injection and non-injection drug users
- People with chronic liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B or C
- People being treated with clotting-factor concentrates
- People who work with Hepatitis A in a research setting
Other Aspects of Hepatitis A Prevention
Safe sex is an important tool in Hepatitis A prevention, particularly for people who have not been vaccinated or who are immunocompromised. That means not just using condoms for vaginal and anal intercourse, but also using dental dams for oral/anal or oral/genital contact.
If you have not been vaccinated and think you may have been exposed to Hepatitis A, it’s important let your doctor know as soon as possible. Some, but not all, people in that situation may benefit from post-exposure prophylaxis, but that option is only available within the first two weeks.
Make no mistake, there are many people who haven’t yet received either Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B vaccines. Universal childhood Hepatitis A vaccination has been recommended for less than 10 years, and so there are a large number of adults who have neither been vaccinated nor realize that it might benefit them to be.
CDC (2013). Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public. Accessed 11/22/14 from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/A/aFAQ.htm
Fairley CK, Read TR. (2012) Vaccination against sexually transmitted infections. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2012 Feb;25(1):66-72. doi: 10.1097/QCO.0b013e32834e9aeb.
Phung BC, Launay O. (2012) Vaccination against viral hepatitis of HIV-1 infected patients. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 8(5):554-9. doi: 10.4161/hv.19105.