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Hepatitis A causing concern

Spread by fecal matter, unwashed hands

Hepatitis A has become a concern for many health departments in the region after several high profile cases.

The Center for Disease Control says that hepatitis A is a disease of the liver caused by a virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water.

Melissa Mullins, the Lawrence County Health Department’s emergency response coordinator, said the department is trying to do prevention to stay ahead of hepatitis A affecting the area like nearby counties.

There have been three reports of food workers in Ashland, Kentucky having the virus in the past month. Last week, The Kentucky Department of Public Health recommended hepatitis A vaccinations for children older than 1 year and adults living in Greenup, Carter and Boyd counties.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said there have been more than 20 cases of acute hepatitis A have been confirmed in Kanawha and Putnam counties since January.

There had been no confirmed cases in the past two years.

To date, there are no confirmed cases in Lawrence County.

The CDC says hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection and symptoms include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolves within two months of infection; most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection.

Prevention of hepatitis A is fairly simple.

“It’s steps like washing your hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom,” she said, adding that you should wash hands for at least 20 seconds. “Or after changing diapers. And always before making food or drinks.”

Mullins said hand washing is the best method, since just using hand sanitizer may not get rid of all bacteria.

The best prevention is getting a hepatitis A vaccination shot.

Antibodies produced in response to hepatitis A infection last for life and protect against re-infection.

“Those are available at several of our pharmacies here in the county,” Mullins said. “And for uninsured residents, they can get their vaccinations here at the health department.”

Linda Howard, a registered nurse with the Lawrence County Health Department, said the recommendation from the CDC is to get a hepatitis A vaccination shot and then in six months, get a booster shot.

“That is to make sure you are immune to hepatitis A,” she said of the second shot. “Once you get the shots, or if you’ve had the hepatitis A virus before, you are immune. It is not a chronic illness, you have it then it goes away.”

Howard added that it is important to teach children the proper way to wash their hands to prevent the spread of diseases.

“With younger ones, you’ll notice that they squirt to the soap on their hands and then put it under the running water, then the soap just goes down the drain. If they do that, then they aren’t get bacteria off their hands,” she said. “They need to be taught to get their hands wet, then squirt the soap and scrub their hands and then rinse their hands.”