CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), Bureau for Public Health today announced enhanced efforts to work with local health officials in Kanawha and Putnam counties as part of the hepatitis A outbreak response which includes embedding and supporting epidemiologists at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health (BPH) has confirmed 72 cases of hepatitis A associated with the national outbreak in Cabell, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Wayne and Wyoming counties. Of those confirmed cases, 64 have occurred in Kanawha (42) and Putnam (22) counties. Additionally, there are possible cases still under investigation, but not yet confirmed by BPH’s state laboratory.
“We are continuing to monitor the hepatitis A outbreak that is occurring in West Virginia and are assisting health departments in containing the outbreak,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “The Bureau’s epidemiology team and I met with Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper earlier this week in an effort to intensify efforts locally, where most cases are occurring. As such, I made the decision to embed our State Epidemiologist at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to assist with the outbreak investigation onsite and to provide daily updates to the Bureau for Public Health for surveillance and control. We are grateful for Commissioner Carper’s leadership on this issue. Meanwhile, we are continuing to actively work with the other health departments involved in this outbreak.”
Hepatitis A is a serious, highly contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is found in the feces of people with hepatitis A. You can contract hepatitis A 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 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. In some cases, people can die. Although not all people infected with hepatitis A experience illness, 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.
In addition to the onsite technical assistance, BPH has issued health advisory #145 to health care providers and laboratories for hepatitis A surveillance and treatment. BPH has also developed a webpage dedicated to the latest outbreak information and has worked with the West Virginia Department of Education on a parental fact sheet about hepatitis A.
“We are encouraging all food establishments across West Virginia to take time and review the importance of adequate and proper handwashing and the wearing of gloves with their employees to help prevent food contamination,” said Dr. Gupta. “I’ve requested all health departments in West Virginia be sent additional food establishment signage that they can share with local restaurants to use as a tool to aid in those discussions.”
BPH is reminding residents that vaccination and proper hand washing are the best defenses against hepatitis A. At this time, BPH is encouraging persons at highest risk get vaccinated including: persons who use injection and non-injection drugs, persons who are homeless, men who have sex with men, recent incarceration in the past six weeks, and vaccination for anyone with ongoing, direct contact with people who are homeless, people who use injection and non-injection drugs, or persons who have hepatitis A. Additionally, BPH is recommending washing hands after bathroom use with soap and water for 20 seconds and before preparing meals for yourself and others.
“We are working with multiple partners including the homeless coalition and others to provide information specific to the populations they serve,” said Dr. Gupta. “Residents can be assured we will remain vigilant until the outbreak has been contained.”
To learn more about hepatitis A or the vaccine, please visit DHHR’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology hepatitis A outbreak webpage: www.dide.wv.gov.
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