If you haven’t heard, quite recently in the Appalachian area of the United States there has been an outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is an infection that affects the liver, and it spreads through contact with infected fecal matter which may be on the hands. Here’s why it is a major problem for the area.

The intravenous drug use problem in southern West Virginia and Kentucky may be to blame for this recent outbreak. Hepatitis A spreads through exposure to small amounts of infected fecal matter from an infected person. (CDC). This is often found on the hands and quickly becomes an issue. One of the biggest concerns is food workers infected with hepatitis A and the potential to infect customers. News sources report on infected workers every day, increasing panic in citizens.

Vaccines are limited. Hep A is considered a “rare” condition and only affects about 4,000 people in the United States per year. When they do occur in the United States, extensive measures are taken to cease the epidemic. (NY Department of Health). Because it is considered rare, vaccines are harder to get because there is a limited number. The vaccines contain an inactive viruses and are given in a series. Unfortunately, with growing demand, the vaccine prices are inflated and cost hundreds of dollar, even with insurance. (Personal Experience).

Symptoms

Symptoms develop a couple weeks after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include sudden nausea and vomiting, jaundice, low-grade fever, abdominal pain, clay colored stool, and dark urine. (Mayo Clinic). Symptoms can be prevented by getting an antibody or vaccine as soon as you realize you’ve been exposed to the virus.

Risks

Fortunately, Hepatitis A doesn’t cause life-long liver issues. In some cases, however, liver function can be lost due to the virus in older adults or those who already have chronic liver diseases. Acute liver function requires that the patient be monitored in a hospital and in rare cases, a liver transplant.

You have an increased risk of coming in contact with the Hep. A virus if you: frequently visit areas where Hepatitis A is common, live with someone with the virus, have sex with someone who has the virus, have HIV, have a blood-clotting disorder, or use illegal drugs (not limited to intravenous drugs). (Mayo Clinic).

Prevention

You can lessen your chances of catching Hepatitis A in an area where it is more common by receiving the vaccine series (2 vaccines within a 6 month span), washing your hands often and thoroughly, taking precautions like boiling water or using bottled water before drinking it, only eating cooked foods, and avoiding eating raw shellfish if an outbreak is nearby.

(Mayo Clinic & CDC)

Although the “epidemic” isn’t widespread, it is still important to take precautions to lessen your chances of getting the virus if you live in an area that has been seeing more cases than normal.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.


References:

“Hepatitis A – Symptoms and Causes”, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-a/symptoms-causes/syc-20367007

“Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public” Centers for Disease Control (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm

“Hepatitis A Information”, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm

https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-vaccine (Stock photo)

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