Virginia Department of Health warns residents of increase in hepatitis A cases

Virginia Department of HealthMultiple states across the country are experiencing hepatitis A virus (HAV) outbreaks. Since these outbreaks were first identified in 2016, more than 15,000 cases and 8,500 hospitalizations (57% of cases) have been reported in the United States. Virginia has reported a 132% increase in cases of HAV between January 1, 2019 and April 19, 2019 compared to the same time period in 2018. There have been 45 cases reported in Virginia as of April 22, 2019.

HAV is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. The classic symptom of HAV is jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or the eyes. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain, dark urine and clay-colored stools. Symptoms develop 15-50 days after exposure to the virus. It is very important for people who have symptoms to stay home from work, especially if they work in food service, health care or child care.

“The increase in HAV cases in Virginia indicates that the Commonwealth is now experiencing the effects of this nationwide outbreak,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We want everyone to know how the infection is spread, be able to recognize the symptoms, and take actions to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.”

The virus is spread through direct contact with another person who has the infection or by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated with the virus. The following groups are at highest risk for acquiring HAV infection or developing serious complications from HAV infection in these outbreaks: injection and non-injection drug users; anyone experiencing or who has recently experienced homelessness; men who have sex with men (MSM); and people who are or were recently incarcerated.

The best way to prevent HAV is by getting vaccinated. Hepatitis A vaccine is available at many doctor’s offices, pharmacies and local health departments across the state. Another important method of prevention is frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food.

In Virginia, local health departments, in conjunction with community partners, are working to increase hepatitis A vaccination rates statewide. The efforts specifically focus on individuals who are members of high risk groups such as those who are/have recently been incarcerated, persons who are experiencing/recently experienced homelessness, injection and non-injection drug users, and men who have sex with men (MSM). Although the focus is on those at higher risk for infection, any Virginian who desires hepatitis A vaccine should receive it.

For more information about HAV, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/hav/ or see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) update on hepatitis A outbreaks in the United States.

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