Amid a surge in hepatitis A cases across the United States, an advisory panel for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending vaccination against the virus for children and teens who have not been immunized, as well as HIV patients.
Previously, hepatitis A vaccination was recommended for children ages 12 to 23 months.
On Thursday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, known as ACIP, voted unanimously to recommend that children and adolescents who have not previously received a hepatitis A vaccine be vaccinated at any age from 2 through 18.
“The goal here is to catch them up on their vaccination at a time when we know they are more likely to seek medical care,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, acting director of the CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response, said in the meeting.
The committee also voted unanimously to recommend that people ages 1 or older with with HIV be vaccinated.
The ACIP recommendations won’t be official until they’re approved by the CDC director.
The votes were made during a meeting at the CDC in Atlanta. The committee holds three meetings every year to review the most recent scientific data and vote on making possible updates to vaccine recommendations. Last year the committee unanimously voted to recommend the use of routine hepatitis A vaccination for all homeless people ages 1 year and older to protect them against infection.
Hepatitis A rates in the United States declined by more than 95% since the vaccine first became available in 1995, according to the CDC.
But the liver disease made a resurgence among adults in the United States, according to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published in May. They found that hepatitis A infections increased 294% between 2016 and 2018.
Adults who have not received the vaccine or previously had the infection remain vulnerable from contaminated food and, on a larger scale, through behaviors such as drug use, according to the report. The virus can also spread from close personal or sexual contact with an infected person.
The rise in the number of cases is also a consequence of the nation’s opioid crisis, the report’s authors added.
“Increasing vaccination among groups at risk for hepatitis A infection might halt ongoing outbreaks and prevent future outbreaks,” the authors explained.
Common symptoms of hepatitis A include stomach pain, low appetite, nausea, fatigue and jaundice, and they usually end within two months, once the body clears the infection. Most people who get hepatitis A recover completely and don’t have lasting liver damage, but in rare cases, the infection can cause liver failure and even death.