Now is a good time for hep A vaccine
HUNTINGTON — The Cabell-Huntington Health Department suggests that back to school is a prime time for families to ensure their children have been vaccinated against hepatitis A, as the region continues to battle a multi-state outbreak of the virus.
“Hepatitis A vaccine is currently required in West Virginia for children entering daycare and Pre-K, but not for public school entry. Therefore, many schoolchildren have been immunized, but some have not,” explained Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, in a news release.
“The prevention of childhood and adolescent cases in this outbreak, and our best defense against future outbreaks, is to give children lifelong immunity, now,” Kilkenny said.
The health department is expanding vaccination efforts to reach more at-risk and high-risk individuals, a group that includes those who use drugs and those with unstable housing situations.
Anyone who has had contact with someone who has become ill from hepatitis A exposure should seek vaccination as soon as possible, but within two weeks of the exposure.
In Ohio, as in West Virginia, children entering child care, Head Start or preschool are required to be immunized against hepatitis A.
In Kentucky, where the outbreak of the virus has been among the worst in the nation, students are now subject to new requirements for hepatitis A and meningococcal vaccines.
All school-aged children in kindergarten through 12th grade now must show proof of having received two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine to attend school, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. If the child has not yet received the second dose of the Hep A vaccine for this school year, they will be considered “provisional,” a status that will expire 14 days from the date the second dose is required.
Students 16 or older must also show proof of having received two doses of Meningococcal ACWY vaccine.
The hepatitis A and Men-ACWY vaccines are available through local healthcare providers, and covered as a no-cost preventive service by most health insurance plans, according to the department.
Hepatitis A is a viral disease of the liver and is spread from person to person by the “fecaloral” route, often by inadequate handwashing after using the toilet or changing diapers. Most people experience symptoms within 28 to 30 days after being exposed.
Members of the community can take critical steps to prevent the spread of hepatitis A — namely, ensuring thorough handwashing with soap and hot water after using the toilet and before handling food.
The hepatitis A vaccine is a two-shot series and is available at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department for $75 per shot. The department has obtained more vaccines for those who are uninsured or cannot afford it. Staff can help patients determine if they qualify for the vaccine at reduced or no cost.
For more information on hepatitis A, visit www.cabellhealth.org or www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav.