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:
- Yellowing of skin and/or eyes—jaundice
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
Hepatitis A is often not serious, especially in young children. Symptoms can last for 2-6 months. In rare cases, the virus can cause liver failure and death. This is more common in people older than 50 years of age.
How Is Hepatitis A Spread?
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.
How Is Hepatitis A Treated?
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 medications, like acetaminophen, could damage the liver if taken 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 all 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.
What If There is an Outbreak at My Child’s Daycare?
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 2 weeks of exposure. It can provide temporary immunity for your child.
- If your child is over 1 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.
Ask your child's doctor when they can safely return to daycare. 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!
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Hepatitis Foundation International
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
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Hepatitis A FAQs for the public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm. Updated October 3, 2016. Accessed July 27, 2017.
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Viral hepatitis: A through E and beyond. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/viral-hepatitis-a-through-e/pages/facts.aspx. Accessed July 27, 2017.
Last reviewed July 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 7/24/2015