Although outbreaks of the hepatitis A virus (HAV) are still fairly common in the United States, government health statistics show the disease has become far less prevalent over the last decade, the Springfield News-Leader reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1995, new hepatitis A infections have consistently fallen from 30,000 to less than 5,000 cases per year.

Health officials say the decline is most likely due to the introduction of an effective HAV vaccine in the 1990s, as well as greater public attention to proper hand-washing policies in places like restaurants and hospitals, where the disease is most commonly spread.

Hepatitis A can be transmitted via contact with objects, food or drinks that have touched even microscopic amounts of fecal matter from an infected person. The disease doesn’t always produce symptoms, but it can cause fever, fatigue, nausea, joint pain and jaundice (a.k.a. yellowing of the skin) two to six weeks after a person is exposed to the virus. HAV is rarely fatal in the United States.

Scientists say that they aren’t actually sure whether a hep A vaccine can protect a person for a lifetime, but that the disease is not dangerous enough to warrant booster shots. In addition, once you come down with and recover from hep A, you can never become re-infected.

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