BECLEY — Since the beginning of the year, West Virginia has had 98 confirmed cases of hepatitis A.
“That’s an increase in cases for West Virginia,” said Candance Hurd, administrator of the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department. “Some of the cases have been linked to the outbreak going on in other states.”
Hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver infection, is spread when a person ingests fecal matter, including microscopic amounts. It can be transmitted when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and then touches objects or food, or when someone engages in sexual activities with an infected person.
Hepatitis A infection can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death.
Earlier this month, Kanawha and Putnam counties announced a number of confirmed cases, including several cases among food service workers. The Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has initiated outbreak response.
Hurd said data is not yet available to determine whether cases are on the rise in Raleigh County, but a May 11 DHHR release indicated cases had been confirmed in Cabell, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Wayne and Wyoming counties — the majority in Kanawha (62 cases) and Putnam (22 cases).
In the release, Dr. Rahul Gupta encouraged all food establishments throughout the state to take time to review the importance of adequate and proper hand-washing and glove-wearing to prevent food contamination.
Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, said he has also requested all health departments in West Virginia be sent additional food establishment signage that they can share with local restaurants to use as a tool to aid in those discussions.
A physician can determine if a person has contracted hepatitis A by discussing his or her symptoms and taking a blood sample. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gray-colored bowel movements, joint pain, jaundice and dark urine.
To prevent the disease from spreading, individuals are encouraged to properly wash their hands, do not share needles, practice safe sex and get vaccinated.
Hurd encourages the general population to receive vaccinations for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Vaccines are available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department, 1602 Harper Road.
The hepatitis A vaccine is a two-dose series, and the hepatitis B vaccine is a three-dose series. After the completion of the vaccination series, Hurd said recipients should have a lifetime of protection.
To learn more about hepatitis A or the vaccine, visit DHHR’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology hepatitis A outbreak webpage at dide.wv.gov.
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