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Washington County spared from Hepatitis A outbreak so far

After an increase this year in hepatitis A cases linked to certain risk factors, the Ohio Department of Health is encouraging people with known risk factors to get vaccinated. So far in 2018, there have been 47 cases of hepatitis A across the state, compared to five cases during the same time frame last year. That’s an 840 percent increase.

Washington County, so far, has been spared, according to Dick Wittberg, the county’s health commissioner. But vaccination is still something that he would recommend.

“We don’t have local cases of hepatitis A that I am aware of, but it’s a nasty, potentially deadly disease,” he said. “I would not have said it was associated with drug use, but ODH appears to be saying that drug use is a risk factor. Normally, the risk for spread with drug users is due to a blood-borne disease and sharing needles, and hep A is not blood borne. Hep A is intestinal and is spread by improper hygiene — not washing your hands well enough after using the bathroom.”

Wittberg said the major threat to the general public for hep A might be a food service worker who has contracted it.

” Having said all that, I would not discourage vaccination,” he said. “There is even a vaccine that protects against both hep A and hep B, which is blood borne.”

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver disease that usually spreads when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the stool of an infected person. Hepatitis A also can spread from close personal contact with an infected person, such as through sex.

The Memorial Health System also reports that they have not seen any cases since last June but they do have safety measures in place.

“We use standard precautions for patient care including hand hygiene and gloves, unless it is an incontinent or diapered individual, then we use contact precautions,” said Michelle Grimm, infection control coordinator at Marietta Memorial Hospital. “These precautions are more advanced and include patient isolation and limiting visitors. Vaccination is recommended after exposure to hepatitis A and each case is reported to the Ohio Department of Health.”

According to ODH, people at increased risk for hepatitis A include those with direct contact with individuals infected with the virus; travelers to countries where the virus is prevalent; men who have sex with men; people who use street drugs whether they are injected or not; people with blood clotting factor disorders; people with chronic liver disease; and household members and other close contacts of adopted children newly arrived from countries where hepatitis A is common.

“The best way to prevent hepatitis A among high-risk individuals is to get vaccinated,” said ODH Medical Director Clint Koenig. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for all children at age 1 and for at-risk individuals.”

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, clay-colored stools and jaundice. People with hepatitis A can experience mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

Julie Depuy, RN with the Marietta City Health Department, said that there have been quite a few people coming in to request hep A vaccines after hearing the news about increased cases and they have plenty of the vaccine in stock.

Ohio has not seen a hepatitis A outbreak so far, which requires at least two cases to be linked to a common exposure source. However, outbreaks are occurring in several states across the U.S., including in nearby states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia. Some of Ohio’s hepatitis A cases are linked to these outbreaks.

“It’s a shot in the arm, a series of two anywhere from six months on, and there are no risks to anyone who wants to get it, even if not in the risk categories,” Depuy said.

The Washington County Health Department on Muskingum Drive offers vaccinations on Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a break for lunch at noon. The Marietta City Health Department on Putnam Street offers vaccines Mondays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the first Monday of each month the hours are extended to 6:30 p.m. Both departments will bill insurance or will work with a patient who is uninsured.

Hepatitis A risk

¯ People with direct contact with individuals infected with the virus.

¯ Travelers to countries where the virus is prevalent.

¯ Men who have sex with men.

¯ People who use street drugs whether they are injected or not.

¯ People with blood clotting factor disorders.

¯ People with chronic liver disease.

¯ Household members and other close contacts of adopted children newly arrived from countries where hepatitis A is common.

Source: Ohio Department of Health.

Where to get vaccinated

¯ Washington County Health Department: Walk-ins only on Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (lunch noon to 1 p.m.); will bill insurance or will work with anyone who is uninsured.

¯ Marietta City Health Department: Mondays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., first Monday of each month until 6:30 p.m.; will bill insurance or work with anyone who is uninsured.

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