Hepatitis A – Ways to Protect Yourself and Others

Kentucky has had 352 cases of Hepatitis A and three deaths since Jan. 1, 2017.

At this time, Montgomery County has now had six confirmed cases of Hepatitis A. The Montgomery County Health Department is working closely with the Kentucky Department for Public Health to respond to these cases and to minimize the risk of further cases, including reminding food handlers of safe practices as a normal preventative measure.  (For the MCHD statement regarding Hepatitis A and a local food handler, click here.)

Hepatitis A is a highly infectious liver infection cause by the Hepatitis A virus.  The most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), joint pain, light colored stools, and dark colored urine.  People may experience some but not all symptoms when infected.  Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last from a few weeks to a few months.  Hepatitis A is usually not fatal, but in rare cases people may develop liver failure which can lead to death.

Children may have no symptoms but be able to spread the infection to others.  Some of these symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, and people may think they have a stomach bug instead.  However, a typical stomach bug only lasts 24-48 hours.  If you begin having the symptoms described above, it is important that you let your primary care provider know.

The great news is that Hepatitis A can be prevented by a vaccine.  The Hepatitis A vaccine is available for ages 1 year and up.  It is given in a series of 2 shots, 6 months apart.  Due to a change in state regulations last year, the vaccine is now required for all children 1 year and older that will be attending daycare, school (including preschool), and home-schooled children who will be participating in school activities or sports.  Many children have been vaccinated or are in the process of completing their Hepatitis A series.  If you are not sure if you or your child has been vaccinated, please check with your healthcare provider for immunization status.

If you are interested in getting the Hepatitis A vaccine for you or your child, you may contact your health care provider or the Montgomery County Health Department.   The health department has the Hepatitis A vaccine available, can bill most insurance, and has discounted rates for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

There are other steps you can follow to help prevent the spread of disease. Hepatitis A is transmitted by the fecal-oral route (putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with stool of a person infected with Hepatitis A). This transmission occurs through person-to-person contact or by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A can be transmitted by people using drugs who share needles and on rare occasions, Hepatitis A is transmitted from transfusion of blood or blood products. Hepatitis is spread more easily in poor sanitary conditions or where good hygiene is not observed. Therefore, it is important to always practice good hand washing before eating food, after using the restroom, and before preparing food.  You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds – try humming the Happy Birthday song twice. If you feel you are sick with the above symptoms, you should not prepare food for others or provide care to others until you have been seen by a healthcare provider.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.