Agency works to monitor hep A
HUNTINGTON — Cabell County is roughly five months past its peak in the nationwide hepatitis A outbreak. New cases are still trickling in — about one per week now, compared to 20 per week at its height in July — but the virus many had never heard of until this year still causes confusion among the public.
With the goal of providing ready and credible information to businesses, organizations and any concerned individual, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department is distributing 200 informational tool kits on hepatitis A, providing facts and outlining appropriate courses of action.
The booklets were developed by the state health department with concise, easily followed information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. The books cover simple facts and prevention, and guides for those in businesses, restaurants and law enforcement to abate the virus and sterilize a facility.
“It’s just a guide point for people to have on hand at, for example, a work facility, a church, schools — it’s just a quick overview for them to have a reference point with credited sources,” said Elizabeth Adkins, director of wellness and public information officer at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
Hepatitis A swept into the region as an obscure relative of the more well-known, and far more dangerous, hepatitis B and C. Many misconceptions still bounce around in the community from its height over the summer. The tool kits were created as a uniform, centralized information source to help cut through much of the confusion.
“We want to make sure they’re getting this from a credible source such as the CDC, the state health department and
us,” Adkins said. “Of course we’ll always be here as a health department to walk you through it, but it’s good to have this reference right there on hand if needed.”
Packets are available at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, located at 703 7th Ave. in Huntington. For more information and to receive copies, contact Adkins at 304-523-6483 or Elizabeth.A.Adkins@wv.gov.
Statewide, 2,018 hepatitis A cases have been recorded as of Dec. 7, according to the state DHHR — resulting in five deaths. In Cabell County, 261 cases are known, while 58 cases have been reported in Wayne County. Kanawha County leads the state with 766 confirmed cases.
The current outbreak began in San Diego in November 2016 and spread through southern California, primarily through the region’s homeless and drug-using populations. Around 700 cases were reported in California, including 22 deaths, and required the mass immunization of about 123,000 people. The California outbreak lasted until April 2018. The disease has since spread to seven other states, including West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.
Locally, most cases are confined to the region’s “at-risk” population — described as the homeless, transient, the recently incarcerated and drug users. Intravenous drug use was reported by 64 percent of West Virginia’s hepatitis A patients.
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. 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. There is a two-week window for those who might have been exposed to receive the hepatitis A vaccine. After the 14-day window has closed, the vaccine might not be effective.