It seems headlines about hepatitis A outbreaks are dominating the news recently – and for good reason.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that hepatitis A infections grew 294% during 2016-2019 when compared with infection rates from 2013-2015.
Some states – including our own – have experienced a more than 500% increase of hepatitis A outbreaks. Those states include:
- West Virginia
These outbreaks have been linked to a few different causes, including among homeless populations and self-reported drug users. What can be alarming for many individuals is that outbreaks have also been linked to infected individuals who prepare foods – which is something that we are not always aware.
State departments of health have connected several regional outbreaks to workers at fast food restaurants. While we can control many of our risk factors for hepatitis A, it is impossible to completely eliminate all risk of contracting hepatitis A.
That’s why we recommend that all adults get a hepatitis A vaccine.
The hepatitis A vaccine
Recent guidelines have suggested that all children receive a hepatitis A vaccine. Several states – including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana – require that all children be vaccinated for hepatitis A before school enrollment. This new rule, which began just a few years ago, gave many children, teens and young adults protection against the virus.
Adults, however, are still not required to get vaccinated against this serious disease.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. It can cause mild or serious symptoms and illness. For the most part, individuals infected with the hepatitis A virus recover from illness without any lasting damage to their health. However, it can cause serious liver disease – including liver failure.
The best way to reduce your risk of hepatitis A – and protect yourself and your family from the rise in outbreaks – is with a vaccine. The vaccine is often required for travel out of the country, particularly to regions that have high rates of the virus.
Our offices recommend that anyone concerned about hepatitis A ask for the vaccine. It is a safe and effective way to protect your health. Vaccines are given over two doses, scheduled six months apart.
Why the vaccine is important
People can become sick with hepatitis A by eating contaminated food or water – including food prepared by someone with hepatitis A who did not practice proper hand hygiene – or direct contact with an infected person.
Some adults and children with hepatitis A may never have symptoms. Individuals without symptoms can still spread the hepatitis A virus. Infected individuals can also spread the virus before symptoms appear.
The most common symptoms of hepatitis A include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark-colored urine
It can take anywhere from weeks or months to recover from an acute hepatitis A infection (when symptoms are present). If you suspect you’ve been exposed to the virus, contact your doctor immediately. You may be given the hepatitis vaccine or immune globulin to help prevent severe illness. Symptoms are often treated with rest, proper nutrition and adequate fluid intake.
Reduce your risk of hepatitis A
Contact your doctor to schedule an appointment to receive the hepatitis A vaccine or ask about it at your next wellness exam.