Hepatitis A: National outbreak affects Columbiana County

By CATHY THOMAS BROWNFIELD

Family Recovery Center publicist

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised of a hepatitis A outbreak that affects people who use drugs and people who are experiencing homelessness across the country.

“In this outbreak,” said the CDC, “hepatitis A is spreading from person to person, especially among people using drugs, having sex, and living close together.”

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reports an increased number of cases in Ohio since the beginning of 2018. Also noted is an increase in bordering states: Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia. The outbreak summary advises of 1,979 cases of the illness between Jan. 5, 2018 and March 3, 2019. Sixty percent of the cases have been male. Seven deaths have been attributed to the outbreak in 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“The hepatitis A outbreak is a nationwide epidemic that is affecting Ohio,” said Jamie Elenz, public health epidemiologist at the Columbiana County Health Department. “It is serious due to the consistently increasing number of people sickened and because the population at highest risk is not the population we would expect to see so greatly affected by what was previously thought to be a food/waterborne disease.”

The at-risk population in Columbiana County includes people who have direct contact with others who are infected, Elenz said. Men who have sex with men, IV and non-IV drug users, people who are homeless, people who are, or have been, incarcerated, and unvaccinated people who travel to areas where hepatitis A is common.

Also at risk are people who attend child care or work in a child care center, people who are HIV positive, people who have a clotting-factor disorder, such as hemophilia, advises the Mayo Clinic.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection that causes inflammation of the liver and affects liver function, explains the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms don’t appear for a few weeks. Someone who is infected may not have any. Some of the symptoms are fatigue, sudden nausea and vomiting, dark urine or light-colored stools, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, joint pain and jaundice.

“This disease is preventable,” Elenz advises. “Hepatitis A vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines on the market and provides lifetime protection. It is widely available and vaccine interventions have already shown to decrease the spread of the disease.”

In Ohio, the ODH and the CDC are providing free vaccine for the populations most vulnerable in the outbreak. The health department is providing free hepatitis A vaccine to our jail population in April, Elenz said. “We have also targeted those who are homeless and use drugs. Our goal is to provide free hepatitis A vaccine to anyone at increased risk of infection.”

In addition to vaccination, use good hygiene, thoroughly washing your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper and before preparing food or eating.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by the Ohio Department of Health.

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