Health Officials Urge Vaccinations To Curb Outbreak Of Hepatitis A
The state of Ohio is in the midst of a national Hepatitis A outbreak. And Montgomery County health officials are urging people to get vaccinated and take other precautions to avoid becoming infected.
At least one person has died after contracting Hepatitis A in Montgomery County.
Public health department numbers show there are more than 200 Hepatitis A cases across the county this year.
That’s a dramatic increase over last year, when the county had just one. There were no reported cases in 2016.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus and spread from person to person through close contact, including through drug or sexual activity.
Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, low appetite, clay-colored stools and jaundice. Symptoms can last a few weeks to several months, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
But, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions, "many people, especially children, have no symptoms. In addition, a person can transmit the virus to others up to two weeks before symptoms appear."
Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health department spokesperson Dan Suffoletto says in rare cases, the condition can cause liver failure and death, especially in high-risk populations.
“Some of the groups that are historically at higher risk from Hepatitis A are people who are experiencing homelessness, people who are incarcerated, people who use street drugs, whether they inject them or not," he says, "men who have sex with men, people who travel to areas where there currently is a Hepatitis A outbreak and people who have contact with those groups."
Ohio has so far had hundreds of confirmed cases linked to the outbreak.
It's one of more than a dozen states reporting a rise in Hepatitis A across the United States, including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia, the CDC reports.
"Since March 2017, CDCs Division of Viral Hepatitis (DVH) has been assisting several state and local health departments with Hepatitis A outbreaks, spread through person to person contact, that have occurred primarily among persons who use injection and non-injection drugs, and/or persons who are homeless, and their close direct contacts," the agency reports.
Suffoletto says it's critical that Ohioans understand the causes of Hepatitis A, and what simple measures can prevent its spread.
Practicing proper hygiene, he says, is a good first step.
"The way that Hepatitis A is transmitted is from fecal matter. So, if someone were to use the restroom and not wash their hands properly, or not wash their hands at all, and then they touch any type of surface or touch food, it is a very small microscopic bit of fecal matter that can transmit the virus," he says. "It's very important that people practice good hand washing at all times, particularly when you're preparing or serving food."
In addition to regular handwashing, health officials are cautioning people against sharing eating utensils or drug paraphernalia.
The county is setting up special vaccination clinics aimed at targeting people in the highest-risk groups, including people in homeless shelters and jails.
And they're urging other residents to get vaccinated for Hepatitis A. The CDC recommends all children be vaccinated against the disease beginning at age 1 year.
For more information about how to get vaccinated, and to set up an appointment, call Public Health, at (937) 225-5700.