Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 6, 2018

Hepatitis A continues to increase in Hamilton County

The number of hepatitis A cases in Hamilton County continues to rise. The tally is at seven since early May. Normally, Hamilton County has zero to one case per year.

The most effective means of preventing hepatitis A infection is by getting the hepatitis A vaccine, says the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. Other preventive measures include good handwashing practices and avoiding recreational or illicit drug use.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water.

It is a self-limiting disease, meaning the virus does not remain in the body as a chronic infection. Most adults will have symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice, that usually resolve within two months of infection.

Most children under six years of age do not have symptoms or might have an unrecognized infection. Although many adults will have mild symptoms, some will result in hospitalization or even death.

“At this time, the health department is working to prevent the spread of the disease in our community,” says Dr. Valerie Boaz, health department officer “We’re focusing on certain risk factor groups and encouraging them to come in and get the vaccine for free.”

Although anyone can contract the disease, the high-risk factor groups are men who have sex with men, those who use recreational or illicit drugs and those who are homeless or transient. People in these high-risk groups may get the vaccine for free on a walk-in basis at any of the health department’s five clinics.

If someone has had direct contact with persons who have hepatitis A, they are urged to contact the health department’s epidemiology section at 423 209-8190.

The hepatitis A vaccine was created in 1995 and required for kindergarten beginning in 2011. It is a two-dose series.

One dose can provide protection for several years while the second dose might provide a lifetime of protection. Once a person has produced antibodies in response to an HAV infection, they are protected for life.

The vaccine is safe for pregnant women when indicated, although they should first consult their primary care provider for guidance.

The health department is working with local restaurants to make sure they are aware of the current hepatitis A situation. Cooking food at temperatures greater than 185° Fahrenheit for one minute will kill the virus; however, the virus can still be spread through food that is contaminated after cooking.

All food handlers, whether commercial or domestic, should wash their hands before and frequently when preparing food and refrain from working if they become infected with HAV. Adequate chlorination of water kills any HAV that might enter the municipal water supply.

Source: Health Department