Be vigilant against Hep A outbreak

It’s time to talk about that alphabet soup of viruses, hepatitis.

After all, there are five types of hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver — A, B, C, D and E.

May happens to be Hepatitis Awareness Month, but that is not the reason for the notoriety.

Hepatitis has been creeping — and in some instances, exploding — into the news lately.

First it was Hepatitis C. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should automatically be tested for Hep C. Of the estimated 3.2 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis C in the U.S., about 75 percent were born during that time frame.

Hepatitis B also has been on the rise in West Virginia. The number of Hep B cases in West Virginia nearly doubled between 2011 and 2015, going from 1,232 to 2,436. It might seem like a small number, but West Virginia has the highest instance per capita of Hepatitis B in the nation, as well as the highest rate of Hepatitis C.

And now there is a Hepatitis A outbreak in southern West Virginia. It started with the homeless population in San Diego and has moved across the country, including to Kanawha and Putnam counties. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is investigating more than 60 cases of Hep A, including two at a middle school; on Wednesday, public health officials announced that a fast food employee has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Monongalia County Health Department plans to take a proactive approach to keep the Morgantown area community safe.

During the week of May 21, public health nurses from MCHD Clinical Services as well as public health officer Dr. Lee B. Smith will go out into the community to vaccinate against Hepatitis A. They will visit the Friendship Room at Milan Puskar HealthRight from 1 to 4 p.m. May 21 and the soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 22. Times and dates for other locations, including Bartlett House, will be determined soon.

While the homeless population is being targeted now for the vaccines, just like the two middle school cases illustrate, other West Virginians should remain vigilant against hepatitis.

Hep A is spread through contact with feces of infected individuals, and so outbreaks can begin in places with poor sanitation. Then it can move into the general population. If infected children contaminate their fingers and then touch an object, other children who touch that object and then put their fingers in their mouths can become infected. The same goes for restaurant employees who do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom.

Symptoms of Hep A include jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin or eyes; fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting; abdominal pain; gray-colored bowel movements and dark urine.

Children who have followed all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations should already have been vaccinated against Hep A and Hep B, the only forms of hepatitis for which there is an inoculation. There is no cure for these two diseases, although they can be managed.

In addition to getting the vaccine, another way to avoid Hepatitis A is good hand hygiene. It is recommended to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for 30 seconds — about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice — after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.

MCHD Clinical Services, in conjunction with the WVU School of Nursing, also has launched a Hepatitis Clinic that takes place on Fridays. Individuals who would like to make an appointment should call 304-598-5119.

If the community can be proactive and if individuals do their part, the hope is that a Hepatitis A outbreak will not take place here.

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