CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A serious vaccine-preventable disease is seeing an uptick in the region.
Hepatitis A, which first plagued the southern counties of the state as part of a multistate outbreak, has now migrated into North Central West Virginia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harrison County has reported 10 cases of Hepatitis A. Marion and Monongalia counties have each reported less than five.
These numbers, Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department Nursing Director Donna Riffle says are a direct result of drug crisis.
“Most of the cases that we have seen are in those who are the high risk population,” Riffle said.
The problem, however, is that those are often the most difficult individuals to reach when it comes to education, Riffle said.
“We are doing our best at educating the public, and when we have individuals in our presences that may be at higher risk, we really try to educate them and make them aware of their risk for Hepatitis A,” she said. “We try and educate them about screening, hand washing, nutrition, all the things we can to make them less susceptible to the infection.”
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease caused by a virus typically found in the stool of an infected person.
“It is spread from person to person from hands that have not been washed after going to the bathroom or by touching items such as diapers or linens that have been soiled by a stool that’s been contaminated by Hepatitis A,” Riffle said. “It’s also spread by contaminated water or ice or by eating uncooked foods that may have been contaminated by handling.”
Riffle said the virus can survive outside of the body before contraction.
“The incubation for Hepatitis A is typically 28 to 30 days, and the maximum time to be infection is toward the latter part of that period,” she said.
As far as treatment, there is no treatment for Hepatitis A.
“Our bodies can usually heal themselves of Hepatitis A,” Riffle said. “However, if individuals have a decreased immune system, if they have poor nutrition or other risk factors, that can cause more serious complications of Hepatitis A.”
Symptoms from Hepatitis A can include fatigue, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, and a loss of appetite.
Of course, this uptick is occurring as health care professionals are also preparing for the peak of flu activity.
Influenza, another one of the 17 vaccine-preventable diseases, is currently only sporadic in West Virginia, according to the CDC. But Riffle still suggests getting the flu shot as early as possible.
“Flu shots are very important and they can reduce your risk of getting the flu,” she said. “A myth is, of course, something that many of us heard is that the flu shot gives individuals the flu. Indeed that is not true. It is not a live virus, so it cannot give you the flu.”
Flu shots can be obtained at your county health department, at most pharmacies, or by visiting your health care provider.
As with most viral infections, Riffle said some individuals and age groups are more susceptible than others, those include infants and children, the elderly, women who are pregnant and those with lower immune systems.
In addition to vaccines, Riffle said there are other precautions you can take to keep the virus from spreading.
“If you’re sick, don’t go to work. You want to see your health care provider because there are antivirals that can be administered or ordered within 72 hours of the symptoms,” she said. “And people should not return to work until 24 hours after their fever has subsided.”