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Hepatitis A Outbreak Spurs Educational Session

The Jefferson County Health Department will hold an educational session concerning the outbreak of hepatitis A in the county at 11 a.m. Friday in the lecture hall at Eastern Gateway Community College.

Nicole Balakos, health department commissioner, said Jefferson County had 32 of those cases of hepatitis A as of Sept. 9, while Belmont County had seven, Harrison County had two, Carroll County had one and Columbiana County had three. Statewide, 3,307 cases had been reported with 82 of 88 counties reporting cases and 16 deaths attributed to hepatitis A, according to the state health department.

Hepatitis A is caused by a contagious virus that infects the liver, and can lead to serious liver problems, Balakos said.

There is a vaccine that prevents the virus, she said. The virus spreads through the feces of people who have the virus. If a person with the virus doesn’t wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom, feces can transfer to objects, food, drinks or drugs, Balakos said.

When these things are shared, other people can unknowingly swallow the virus. If a person who has the virus comes in close contact with others — like during sex — the virus can also spread, she said.

“Since Sept. 9, Jefferson County has added additional cases to the tally and we are gravely concerned for our residents,” Balakos said. “The at-risk population are particularly vulnerable based on the risk factors of drug use, recent incarceration, homelessness, men having sex with men and similar factors. However, once an individual is infected, the risk of transmission increases from lack of hygiene such as basic handwashing before preparing or serving food, prior to eating and after using the restroom or changing a diaper. This makes family members and others who are in close contact susceptible. It is critical that people understand that they must wash their hands. Alcohol-based sanitizers do not kill hepatitis A germs. Use soap and warm, running water and wash for at least 20 seconds.”

Two state health department officials, epidemiologist Brandi Taylor and immunologist Theresa Bonn, will be presenters at the educational session on Friday.

County heath department officials reported staff members are working in the community to educate and vaccinate in an effort to control the increasing number of hepatitis A cases within the county.

The health department staff will be offering vaccination opportunities for at-risk individuals at the health department, located on the sixth floor of the Towers, 500 Market St.

Prior to receiving a vaccination, a risk assessment is conducted by the nurse to determine if vaccination is appropriate.

Candidates for vaccination are encouraged to come to the health department between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Tuesday through Friday, the health department reported.

Other times can be scheduled by calling 740-283-8530.

In West Virginia, cases of hepatitis A have been reported in southern portions of the state.

According to Ohio County Health Department officials, one case was linked to a resident of Belmont County who worked in Marshall County. Ohio and Brooke counties, as well as several counties in the Eastern Panhandle have not recorded any cases of hepatitis, officials said last week.

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