SATURDAY, Nov. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- There has been a sharp decline in the rate of hospitalizations for hepatitis A in the United States, a new study finds.
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that people get from contaminated food or water, or through direct contact with an infected person.
Researchers analyzed federal government data and found that the rate of hospitalization for hepatitis A infection fell from 0.72 to 0.29 per 100,000 patients between 2002 and 2011.
During that same time, the average age of hospitalized patients rose from 38 to 46. The percentage of hepatitis A-related hospitalizations covered by Medicare went up from 12 percent to 23 percent, the researchers found.
Older patients and those with chronic liver disease are most likely to be hospitalized for hepatitis A infection, according to the study published online recently in the journal Hepatology.
Hepatitis A vaccinations for adults with chronic liver disease may prevent infection with hepatitis A and the need for hospitalization, study leader Dr. Melissa Collier, of the division of viral hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues said in a journal news release.
They suggested that doctors should consider vaccinating patients at high risk for hepatitis A infection.
Each year, about 1.4 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis A, according to the World Health Organization. Hepatitis A cases have declined by 90 percent in the United States over the past two decades, but there are still 2,000 new cases a year, according to the CDC.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about hepatitis A.