Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 7, 2018

Hepatitis A outbreak worsening

The number of hepatitis A cases in Hamilton County continues to rise. Since May, 54 cases have been reported to the Health Department. By comparison, zero to one cases per year are reported in non-outbreak years. The best way residents can protect themselves is by getting the hepatitis A vaccine, knowing how the virus is transmitted, and taking preventive actions.

The Health Department works to prevent the spread of the virus by vaccinating those with the highest risk first. Evidence in this outbreak shows that those at highest risk are recreational drug users, homeless or transient people, and men who have sex with men.

The Health Department outreach teams offer education and vaccinations in hard-to-reach homeless camps, homeless shelters, LGBT nightclubs and events, substance abuse treatment centers, a needle exchange clinic and in the jails.

Since May 2018, the Health Department has distributed over 2,800 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine.

When a diagnosis of hepatitis A is made, the healthcare provider is required to report it to the Health Department. The Health Department then follows up with the infected person and their close contacts to prevent the spread of the disease.

“While the current outbreak is associated with certain behaviors more than others, anyone can get the hepatitis A virus,” says Connie Buecker, manager of the Health Department’s communicable disease clinics. “Many viruses are easily transmitted from person to person, and you cannot know when you could be exposed.”

The Health Department offers the hepatitis A vaccine free to anyone who requests it.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection spread via a fecal-oral route. Contamination is microscopic and often associated with poor hygiene. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. About half of the people who become infected in this outbreak will require hospitalization. The disease can result in death.

Symptoms of hepatitis A usually occur quickly and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice. Symptoms usually last less than two months, although 10-15 percent of symptomatic persons have prolonged or relapsing disease for up to six months.

Other preventive measures for hepatitis A include washing hands regularly, especially before eating or preparing food, after changing diapers, after cleaning up the stool of an infected person, and after going to the bathroom.

Protect yourself

All Health Department clinic locations welcome walk-in clients for the hepatitis A vaccine:

Chattanooga: 921 E. 3rd St. (423 209-8340)

Birchwood: 5625 Hwy. 60 (423 961-0446)

Ooltewah: 5520 High St. (423 238-4269)

Soddy-Daisy: 9527 West Ridge Trail Rd. (423 842-3031)

Homeless Health Care Center: 730 E. 11th St. (423 265-5708)