AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — 147 — that’s the number of hepatitis A cases reported to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control since November 2018.
“It’s a virus that attacks the liver,” Nurse Practitioner at Community Medical Clinic of Aiken County Elizabeth Seal told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk. [It’s] serious enough that you need to get treated for it,” she added.
The hepatitis A epidemic has become so bad, state health officials declared a statewide outbreak on May 13 following on a steady increase in the number of cases including in our area – three cases were in the Aiken area and one other in North Augusta.
“It speaks highly to the need for people who work in the food industry to wash their hands after using the bathroom,” Seal said.
It’s usually spreads when a person ingests the virus from an object – contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.
“It usually resolves on its own but you really want to make sure that you don’t pass it along to anyone else,” Seal added
There are a number of symptoms you should look out for if you suspect you have the virus including:
Loss of appetite
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
A vaccine is available but keep in mind it’s not shown to prevent infection when administered more than 14 days after a specific exposure. However, vaccination more than 14 days after exposure will give long-lasting protection from infection from future exposures, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
If symptoms occur, they usually start appearing 4 weeks after exposure, but can occur as early as two and as late as seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Seal has this simple message to keep the exposure rate low. “If people would wash their hands after they use the bathroom, carefully, that would solve much of the problems it’s fecal oral transmission,” she added.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. To get the full benefit, more than one shot is needed. The number and timing will depend on the type of vaccine you are given but usually its 2 shots, 6 months apart. Individuals with a weakened immune system, or existing liver disease such as hepatitis B or C, or cirrhosis (alcoholic liver disease), are at greater risk for severe hepatitis A infection and are encouraged to get the vaccine.
In South Carolina, adults 18 years and older can get vaccinated at some local pharmacies without a prescription, depending on insurance coverage.
DHEC’s local health departments also provide hepatitis A vaccines. DHEC has an Adult Vaccine Program that provides low-cost vaccines for uninsured or underinsured individuals who are 19 years and older. Meanwhile, DHEC’s local health departments are currently providing no-cost hepatitis A vaccines to individuals in at-risk groups — drug users, homeless, recently incarcerated, and men who have sex with men).
To schedule an appointment for vaccination at your local health department, call 855-472-3432 or visit www.scdhec.gov/HealthClinics.
If you still have questions or concerns, contact DHEC’s Careline at 1-855-4SC-DHEC (1-855-472-3432). Careline staff will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. to answer your questions.