WHEELING, WV — With an outbreak of Hepatitis A in parts of the United States, including southern West Virginia, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is offering Hepatitis A vaccinations to at-risk individuals in the county.

Staff from the department’s Project HOPE program, a public health street medicine outreach program, have begun to offer Hepatitis A vaccinations during their weekly clinical rounds. The Project HOPE program is working to identify people who are living outdoors who could benefit from these vaccines.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and is associated with poor sanitation and hygiene and is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and drink or through direct contact with an infectious person.

Hepatitis A is a serious, highly contagious liver disease that can cause symptoms including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes.).

The Hepatitis A outbreak began in the homeless population in San Diego and recently spread to southern West Virginia area. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health recently confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in Kanawha and Putnam counties as well as cases in Cabell, Lincoln, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

Anyone can get hepatitis A, but you are at-risk if you:

  • Are homeless and/or use illicit drugs
  • Live with someone who has hepatitis A
  • Use recreational drugs
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis
  • Travel or live in countries where hepatitis A is common

Hepatitis A can be spread by:

  • Touching objects or eating food that someone with hepatitis A infection has handled
  • Having sex with someone who has a hepatitis A infection
  • Consuming food or drinks that are contaminated by the virus
  • Sharing needles, pipes or other items when using drugs
  • Forgetting to wash your hands after cleaning up the stool or changing the diaper of an infected person

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated

  • The hepatitis A vaccine is given as 2 shots, 6 months apart
  • The vaccine is safe and effective
  • Even a single dose is highly effective in adults
  • If you cannot remember if you got the hepatitis A vaccine, there is no harm in getting it again
  • The Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin is only effective within two weeks of exposure to the virus.

In addition to getting the vaccine, good hand hygiene is recommended to avoid getting Hepatitis A. It is recommended that individuals wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20-30 seconds.

For more information on Hepatitis, vaccinations and the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department call (304) 234-3682.