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Booster shot for hep A due for many

November 16, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Six months since clamors for the hepatitis A vaccination began to sweep the Tri-State, it’s close to time for those who were immunized in the thick of the local outbreak to get their secondary booster shot.

Two doses of the vaccination are recommended: the initial vaccination, which alone is 95 percent effective, followed by a booster roughly six months later.

Booster shots are used to augment immunizations for a number of different illnesses and may have different effects. For the hepatitis A vaccination, which is the same substance as the first, the booster increases the chance the person will become totally immune and likely makes a person immune for life.

This second booster is particularly important for people over 40 and children, said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

While the still-active hepatitis A outbreak doesn’t grab as many local headlines as it did this past spring and summer, “We’re still seeing too many cases, considering that we usually see zero cases,” Kilkenny said. “We’d really not like to see three to five cases become our new baseline.”

As of Friday, West Virginia has reported 1,774 hepatitis A cases since March 2018, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources — 742 of those in Kanawha County alone. Cabell County, in a distant second, has recorded 252 cases. Wayne County has recorded 53 cases. Two deaths have been attributed to the virus in West Virginia, neither of which was local.

Hepatitis A is a viral disease of the liver and is spread from person to person by the “fecal-oral” route, often by inadequate handwashing after using the toilet or changing diapers. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.

It can take up to 50 days after exposure to the virus for someone to become ill, but most people experience symptoms within 28 to 30 days after being exposed. Hepatitis A vaccinations are highly effective if received within 14 days of exposure.

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.

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