Hepatitis A outbreak not hitting region

Photo by Rob Sproul/ SHOWN HERE is the type of hepatitis A vaccine given to adults at the Belmont County Health Department.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Although a hepatitis A outbreak is occurring in multiple states — including Ohio and West Virginia — it has not hit Belmont County and most of the Ohio Valley.

Rob Sproul, deputy health commissioner for the Belmont County Health Department, said there have been no reported cases of the hepatitis A here.

One case has been reported in Guernsey County, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Sproul said the outbreak is occurring mainly in regions with bigger cities. If needed, the ODH said it would give county health departments vaccines to protect people against the disease.

If there was a case, the health department would monitor that person to make sure they did not return to work while sick. The vaccine shots also would be given to that person’s co-workers or those with whom they have come into contact, Sproul said.

Sproul said the infection is being spread by the “fecal to oral route.” For example, if an infected person is working in a restaurant and does not wash hands enough to remove fecal matter, that can come into contact with the food he or she is preparing. The food then can be ingested by a customer and make the person eating sick.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. According to information provided by Sproul, symptoms include “fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice. Although rare, atypical extra hepatic manifestations include rash, pancreatitis, renal disease, arthritis and anemia.”

A severe infection can lead to death in a person who already has poor health. But no one infected in Ohio during this outbreak has died, though 77 of 119 people infected have been hospitalized. Most people recover after several weeks with no lasting damage to the liver, according to CDC.

It can take 28 to 50 days before symptoms appear after being exposed to the infection.

“We get involved to make sure that person is not contagious when they go back to work,” Sproul said of the health department’s role. “The bigger cities seem to be getting hit the worst.”

Of the 2,500 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2017 and 2018, a majority (68 percent) of those infected said they were drug users, homeless or both.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, there were no cases in Belmont, Monroe, Jefferson, Harrison or Noble counties as of July 9.

At the southern tip of Ohio, in Lawrence County, 27 cases have been reported. Twenty-five of Ohio’s counties have a case or cases.

Although West Virginia is part of the outbreak, no cases have been reported in the Northern Panhandle, according to the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health.