Ohio County First Responders, Others at High Risk To Get Hepatitis A Vaccine

The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is offering hepatitis A vaccination clinics, beginning today, in response to a national outbreak of the virus.

The special clinics are for West Virginia first responders and high-risk individuals. The hepatitis A vaccine is available from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. today, Dec. 12, Dec. 19 and Dec. 26 at the health department’s offices, on the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.

Speaking at an Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health meeting last month, administrator Howard Gamble said 13 states have been affected by the national outbreak of hepatitis A. He said 1,800 cases of the disease have been reported in West Virginia, with Kanawha County having the highest incidence in the state.

Currently, no cases in Ohio County are related to the national outbreak. However, Gamble cautioned, “It is a large outbreak. It is just a matter of time before we have cases.”

To participate in the special clinics, area first responders need to bring proof of employment and identification.

“There is no charge for the vaccination and participants do not need to bring insurance information,” the administrator said.

Eligible participants include any West Virginia emergency medical service, fire and law enforcement personnel, both volunteer and paid professional staff.

“The hepatitis A vaccine is being provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources for the sole purpose of vaccinating first responders,” he said.

In addition, individuals who are considered to be at high risk, are 19 or older and are West Virginia residents can receive hepatitis A vaccination. The vaccine for high-risk people also is being provided by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, he said.

Individuals who are at high risk will be screened briefly by health department staff. Those who qualify can receive the vaccine at no cost.

Gamble said high-risk groups include:

∫ People who use injection or non-injection illicit drugs;

∫ Men who have sex with men;

∫ People who are homeless or in transient living situations;

∫ People who have been incarcerated;

∫ People with acute or chronic liver disease, including those with hepatitis B virus and/or hepatitis C virus;

∫ People exposed to someone with hepatitis A;

∫ Household contact with someone who uses illicit drugs or homeless;

∫ People who provide direct services with people who are homeless or use illicit drugs;

∫ People with ongoing exposure to a group listed above.

Gamble explained that hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine and light-colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes also may appear.

The best ways to prevent contracting the disease are through vaccination and proper handwashing.

Meanwhile, Gamble said the health department will continue to offer hepatitis A vaccinations during weekly clinical rounds of Project HOPE, its public health street medicine outreach program.

For details on the vaccination clinics, call the health department at 304-234-3682.

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