Photo of plated food in a restaurant kitchen, with chef in the background tossing food in a pan.

Dine Out a Lot? Consider Getting a Hepatitis A Vaccine

Most of my meals come from restaurants and the cafeteria at my job. So I get a little anxious every time I hear about restaurant customers being exposed to potentially deadly viruses and bacteria that lurk in contaminated food and water.

That’s why I recently got a hepatitis A vaccine.

Michigan is in the midst of a hepatitis A outbreak that began in 2016. As of May 2, 2018, there were 828 confirmed cases, according to the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. Twenty-six people have died as a result of this outbreak, and 665 people have been hospitalized. The majority of cases have occurred in Southeast Michigan, where I live.

Just recently:

So to get peace of mind, I decided to get vaccinated. I knew my hepatitis A shot would be free, because Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network cover commercial and Medicare members who get immunized against the virus at in-network Michigan pharmacies.

The vaccination process was easy: I went to my pharmacy’s website, scheduled a vaccination appointment online, and two days later, I received my first hepatitis A shot. (I’ll get my second — and final — vaccine in November.)

And as luck would have it, the pharmacist who administered my shot said she also got immunized against hepatitis A. Like me, she dines out a lot and didn’t want to risk getting sick.

So now both of us frequent diners have one less thing to worry about.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a contagious virus that causes liver inflammation. It can make people sick for several weeks, and it can be deadly.

According to WebMD®, Hepatitis A is spread through the stool of a person infected with the disease. So you can get the virus by:

  • Consuming contaminated food or water
  • Living with an infected person
  • Having intimate relations with an infected person 

What are the symptoms?

According to MDHHS, the symptoms of hepatitis A may include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or eyes

But keep in mind not everyone who gets infected with the virus will experience symptoms. Or it might take 15 to 50 days after exposure to exhibit any signs of infection.

So how can you protect yourself from the virus?

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the restroom, before and after handling food, and after changing a diaper.
  • Use your own towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils.
  • Don’t share food and drinks with other people.
  • Don’t have intimate relations with someone who is infected.

How can you get vaccinated?

Call your pharmacy or visit its website to see if the vaccine is in stock and find out when you can get the shot. When you go for the vaccination, present your Blue Cross or BCN member ID card to the pharmacist.

Depending on where you live, you also may be able to get the vaccine at a walk-in clinic. The schedule of clinics offering the vaccine is available here.

Need more information about vaccines?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccines for the following people:

  • All children, one year and up
  • People at high risk for infection
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Unvaccinated people who have been exposed recently (within two weeks) to the hepatitis A virus

Here are the vaccines Blue Cross and Blue Care Network cover:

  • Havrix® and Vaqta. Two doses of Havrix are given six to 12 months apart, while two doses of Vaqta are given six to 18 months apart.
  • Twinrix®. This vaccine prevents both hepatitis A and B. You must be age 18 or older to get this vaccine, and the standard schedule for Twinrix is three shots over a six-month period.

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Photo credit: Franklin Heijnen

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