by Kate Evans
The number of acute hepatitis A virus cases in West Virginia from a multi-state outbreak has jumped to 2,415 cases as of March 8 and has now spread to 43 counties, including Morgan County, according to West Virginia Bureau of Public Health information.
The number of hospitalizations from hepatitis A has risen to 1,201 people and 12 people in the state have died from the virus.
Morgan County has less than five confirmed hepatitis A cases. They were identified in February, said Morgan County/Berkeley County Health Department nurse Angie Gray.
Berkeley County has 10 hepatitis A cases. No cases have occurred in Jefferson, Hampshire, Mineral, Hardy, Grant and Pendleton Counties.
17 states involved
The number of states experiencing the hepatitis A outbreak has grown to 17 states and are Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.
Most are drug users
More than 70% of the West Virginia hepatitis A cases reported illicit drug use. Most case increases have occurred in IV and non-IV drug users, homeless or transient/mobile individuals, those recently incarcerated or individuals co-infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Most cases are usually spread by the fecal-oral route, which includes close household contact with someone with the hepatitis A virus. However, the virus is also being spread through blood-borne person to person transmission.
State, local response
The Bureau for Public Health has provided hepatitis A vaccine to help with prevention efforts statewide, Gray said.
Berkeley/Morgan Health Department officials have vaccinated those at the highest risk for hepatitis A along with the first emergency responders and law enforcement that have contact with them.
Health officials have also educated food establishments about safe food handling practices and hand-washing, she said. They’re pushing to get the second dose of vaccine to responders so they’ll have lifelong coverage against hepatitis A.
Gray said that the Morgan County Health Department has been proactive with encouraging vaccinations and talking with food establishments since it was just a matter of time before hepatitis A cases surfaced in Morgan County.
Cases aren’t being seen in food establishments here.
Most state hepatitis A cases have occurred in Kanawha County, where there were 802 cases as of March 8. Cabell County has 268 cases, Wood County-211, Raleigh County-158, Putnam County-108, Boone County-103, Fayette County-102, Logan County-78, Wayne County-61, Nicholas County-58, Harrison County-56 cases, Jackson County-51, Lincoln County-43 and Mason County-41.
Braxton County has 35 cases, Greenbrier County-35, Mingo County-30, Wyoming County-26, Mercer County-18, Webster County-17, Clay County-13, Marion County-11, Berkeley County-10, Roane County-10, Ritchie County-nine, Monongalia County-eight, Lewis County-eight, McDowell County-eight, Gilmer County-seven, and Pleasants County-five.
Counties that have reported less than five cases are Calhoun, Doddridge, Hancock, Marshall, Monroe, Morgan, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Summers, Upshur, Wetzel and Wirt Counties.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus and is found in the feces of people with the virus. It can be contracted by eating food, drinking water, or putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with fecal matter from a person infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A is easily spread through close sexual contact and household contacts as well as through persons who share injection and non-injection drugs. Illness can appear 15-50 days after exposure and a person can be sick for several weeks.
Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, feeling tired, fever, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, pale-colored feces, and joint pain. Most people recover fully after illness.
Food establishments should ensure that employees wash their hands before preparing food and after restroom use and use safe food handling practices like wearing gloves when preparing food.
Washing foods carefully, especially fruits and vegetables, and staying home when sick are important. Gray stressed the importance of hand-washing with preventing hepatitis A and other viruses.
Those that want protection from the hepatitis A virus during this outbreak can get vaccinated, Gray said. Anyone that thinks they’ve been exposed to the hepatitis A virus should call or see a health professional immediately.