The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department reports recent cases of acute hepatitis A occurring in Kanawha and Putnam counties have been linked to an ongoing, multistate Hepatitis A outbreak.

Hepatitis A Vaccine Image/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Hepatitis A Vaccine
Image/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Since January, more than 20 cases of Hepatitis A have been confirmed in Kanawha and Putnam counties. Prior to this outbreak, Janet Briscoe, KCHD director of epidemiology, called Hepatitis A cases rare in the region.

KCHD recently received notification specimens submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the local investigation match a specific genotype identified in the California and Kentucky outbreaks. The multistate outbreak, for the most part, is occurring in persons who use illicit drugs and who may be homeless or without a permanent residence. The disease spread may also be attributed to the lack of access to proper hygiene or sanitation.

Hepatitis A virus is excreted from the body through stool. It can live on surfaces for months. Individuals can get Hepatitis A from close personal contact with someone who has the illness, or from encountering food or surfaces and unknowingly ingesting even microscopic particles of contaminated human waste.

Hepatitis A can cause liver inflammation. A person with Hepatitis A is considered contagious for two weeks before and one week after symptom onset. Most adults have symptoms that include yellowing of the skin or eyes, right upper side abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Persons who have the illness may also experience loss of appetite, fatigue, dark (tea-colored) urine, light-colored stool, headache or fever. In some instances, deaths have been reported.

People may experience mild to severe symptoms. Once the acute phase of the illness passes, a person becomes immune.  People with underlying health conditions, particularly those with chronic liver diseases such as alcoholic cirrhosis, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C may require hospitalization.

Persons experiencing hepatitis symptoms should notify their health care providers. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have been in contact with someone who may have Hepatitis A.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent Hepatitis A infection. Children are now routinely vaccinated for Hepatitis A.  A two-dose Hepatitis A vaccine series is available for adults.  Contact the health department to schedule a post-exposure vaccination. One dose of Hepatitis A vaccine given within two weeks of exposure can help prevent contacts from becoming ill.

KCHD officials are urging people with risk factors, including the homeless and/or people who use injection and non-injection drugs, to get vaccinated. Anyone with ongoing, close contact with high-risk populations should consider vaccination.