Hepatitis A Outbreak: Should You Get Vaccinated?

A hepatitis A outbreak that started in San Diego and Santa Cruz counties has now spread to Los Angeles County.

So far, 16 people have died and 400 people have been sickened with 300 of those being hospitalized. In a normal year, there are only about 200 cases reported in the entire state.

San Diego County has declared a local public health emergency and is trying to vaccinate those most at risk – the homeless and illegal drug users. The California State Board of Pharmacy is encouraging qualified pharmacists in San Diego County to offer hepatitis A vaccinations to help stop the outbreak. In 2016, the board implemented legislation that allows pharmacists with specified training to administer vaccinations, in addition to being able to provide immunizations under a physician’s protocol.

What is hepatitis A?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The illness can be mild and last for just a few weeks or be severe and last several months. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and acute liver failure, which is often fatal.

How do you get it?

Person-to-person contact:

  • When an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food.
  • When a parent or caregiver does not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person.
  • When someone has sex or sexual contact with an infected person.

Contaminated food or water:

  • Eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus, including frozen or undercooked food.

What are the symptoms?

  • Some people get hepatitis A and have no symptoms.
  • Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)

How soon after exposure will symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

How is it diagnosed?

A health care professional can diagnose hepatitis A based on your symptoms and by taking a blood sample.

How is it treated?

The California Department of Public Health says there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Health care providers usually recommend rest, good nutrition and plenty of fluids while the disease runs its course.

How is it prevented?

  • Hepatitis A vaccine, available from qualified pharmacists and health care providers.
  • Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food.
  • Washing hands thoroughly before eating.
  • Avoiding foods that may be contaminated with the virus, such as raw oysters and raw shellfish.

What should you do if you might have been exposed?

If you are not vaccinated and think you may have been exposed, you can try and prevent or lessen the illness by getting the hepatitis A vaccination or immune globulin within two weeks after exposure. Talk to your health care professional right away.

Who should get vaccinated?

  • All children at age one year.
  • Travelers to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men.
  • Users of injection and non-injection illegal drugs.
  • People with lifelong liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates.
  • People who work with hepatitis A infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory.
  • Anyone not previously vaccinated should consider the vaccine.

Talk to your pharmacist or health care provider to determine if you should get the hepatitis A vaccine.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

California Department of Public Health 

California State Board of Pharmacy

 

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