Hepatitis vaccine makes sense for young traveler

Tots to Teens

March 19, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My 14-year-old son is going to South America on a school trip in April. The organizers sent home a letter suggesting he get vaccinated against hepatitis A. What do you think?

The organizers of your son's trip appear to have done their homework and we agree with their recommendation.

Anyone traveling to a country where exposure to the hepatitis A virus is possible should be vaccinated.

Although hepatitis A does not carry the same long-term risk to health as infection with the Hepatitis B or C virus does, people who contract Hepatitis A can get quite sick and may occasionally need hospitalization.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine (which contains the inactivated virus) confers virtually 100 percent protection after immunization is complete. The primary immunization series for someone your son's age consists of two injections (given in the muscle) one month apart. People ages 18 and older require only a single injection.

For long-term protection, an additional booster done (regardless of age) should be given 6 to 12 months after the primary immunization schedule is completed.

The vaccine takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks to become effective (it takes a while for the body to procedure the protective antibodies) so your son should get vaccinated soon.

Ideally, the interval between the time your son receives his second dose of vaccine and his trip should be two weeks. If the time period is shorter, he may need an injection of immune globulin for protection until the vaccine becomes fully effective. Check with your son's doctor for the specific recommendations.

The hepatitis A vaccine can be given with other vaccines but in different body sites. The side effects are minor, usually involving some minor redness or tenderness at the injection site.

Since the vaccine does not contain any egg products, egg allergy is not a contraindication. The vaccine does not contain any blood products.

Finally, this would also be a good time to have your son begin the vaccination series for Hepatitis B if he has not already done so.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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