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North Central Health District

COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENTS

NCHD Encourages Vaccination Against Hepatitis A

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Amid the rising number of hepatitis A cases occurring across the country, the epidemiology program of North Central Health District (NCHD) encourages everyone to protect themselves against the virus through immunization.

Areas across the US are experiencing outbreaks of hepatitis A. The CDC has issued travel notices for states experiencing outbreaks. The list includes Arkansas, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia. Travelers to these states are advised to take precautions to protect themselves against hepatitis A.

Since June 25, 2018, there have been five confirmed cases of hepatitis A in NCHD’s 13-county district. The number of cases confirmed in the last three weeks already exceeds the yearly average of just under three cases for 2015-2017. To combat the increasing number of infections, NCHD requests that anyone at risk of contracting the virus to visit their local health department and get vaccinated against the disease.

“Hepatitis A can be a serious illness to anyone that is not vaccinated against the virus,” said Amber Erickson, NCHD Epidemiologist. “The illness is highly contagious and can quickly spread through a community that is not protected. Not all people infected with the virus will experience obvious symptoms. The only way to know whether or not you’re infected with hepatitis A is to get tested.”

The hepatitis A virus can be spread through body fluids or transmitted by eating or drinking contaminated material. The virus is most commonly spread when an individual ingests the virus by consuming food or drinks contaminated by particles of waste from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through close physical contact with an infected person like caring for someone who is ill or through sexual contact.

Individuals with a high risk of infection include users of injected and non-injected drugs, men who have sexual contact with men, homeless or transient individuals and people caring for anyone affected by the virus. Additionally, anyone travelling to any area currently experiencing an outbreak of the virus is at risk of infection. An infected person can spread hepatitis A can spread the virus up to two weeks before symptoms appear or if they have no symptoms at all. Anyone at high risk should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

While some people may not experience illness, hepatitis A can lead to a variety of symptoms. Once infected, symptoms may begin anywhere between two and seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms can appear flu-like and can include stomachaches, fever, vomiting and exhaustion. Additional symptoms include loss of appetite, joint pain, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), dark urine and pale feces. Symptoms can last from several weeks to as long as six months and most people fully recover. However, severe cases can lead to death.

Anyone who believes they have exposed to the virus should contact their healthcare provider immediately since the virus spreads easily. If a person tests positive for hepatitis A, treatment may begin with postexposure prophylaxis within the first two weeks after exposure. The symptoms of the illness can be treated with rest, hydration and a healthy diet.

The most effective defense against hepatitis A is immunization. The vaccine may require more than one shot to be fully effective based on the type of vaccine provided. The hepatitis A vaccine will only protect against hepatitis A, and a separate shot is required to protect against hepatitis B. There is currently no vaccine against hepatitis C.

In addition to vaccination, individuals can take simple steps to reduce their risk of hepatitis A infection. Good hand hygiene is important to protecting against transmission through ingestion. It is important to wash hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food and after using the bathroom, handling human waste or caring for someone with hepatitis A.

To learn more about the hepatitis A vaccine or to schedule an immunization appointment, contact your local health department. Contact information for each of the 13 NCHD county health departments can be found at NCHD52.org/Locations. For more information on hepatitis A, visit cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav.

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