After all, there are five types of hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver—A, B, C, D and E.
May happens to be Hepatitis Awareness Month, but that is not the reason for the notoriety.
Hepatitis has been creeping—and in some instances, exploding—into the news lately.
First it was Hepatitis C. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should automatically be tested for Hep C. Of the estimated 3.2 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis C in the U.S., approximately 75 percent were born during that time frame.
Hepatitis B also has been on the rise in West Virginia. The number of Hep B cases in West Virginia nearly doubled between 2011 and 2015, going from 1,232 to 2,436. It might seem like a small number, but West Virginia has the highest instance per capita of Hepatitis B in the nation, as well as the highest rate of Hepatitis C.
And now there is a Hepatitis A outbreak in southern West Virginia. It started with the homeless population in San Diego and now it has moved to various locations across the country, including to Kanawha and Putnam counties. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is investigating around 70 cases of Hep A, including two at Dupont Middle School; last Wednesday, public health officials announced that a fast-food employee has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A. Cases have been linked using ribonucleic acid (RNA) testing to the San Diego outbreak.
Monongalia County Health Department plans to take a proactive approach to keep the Morgantown-area community safe.
During the week of May 21, public health nurses from MCHD Clinical Services as well as Dr. Lee B. Smith, the health department’s executive director and county health officer, will go out into the community to vaccinate against Hepatitis A. They will visit the Friendship Room at Milan Puskar HealthRight from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, May 21; the soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 and Thursday, May 24; and the Salvation Army from 4 to 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.
MCHD clinical staff also will accompany members of WVU’s MUSHROOM, or Multidisciplinary UnSheltered Homeless Relief Outreach Of Morgantown, into the community an in effort to inoculate individuals. That will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24.
While the homeless population is currently being targeted for the vaccines, just like the two cases at Dupont Middle School and one at a fast-food restaurant illustrate, other West Virginians should remain vigilant against hepatitis.
As the HIV/AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s showed, just because an illness begins in one population does not mean it will not cross over into another one.
Hep A is spread through contact with feces of infected individuals. If infected children contaminate their fingers and then touch an object, other children who touch that object and then put their fingers in their mouths can become infected. Same goes for restaurant employees who do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom.
Symptoms of Hep A include jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin or eyes; fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting; abdominal pain; gray-colored bowel movements and dark urine.
Children who have followed all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations should already have been vaccinated against Hep A and Hep B, the only forms of hepatitis for which there are inoculations. There is no cure for these two diseases, however.
Hepatitis C does have a cure, but there is no vaccine.
Hepatitis D and Hepatitis E are very rare and someone must have Hepatitis B in order to develop Hep D and Hep E. And while it is rare, Hep E is especially virulent for pregnant women.
There also is a fear that the Hepatitis A outbreak will increase the number of Hep B and Hep C cases as well as HIV.
The different types of hepatitis have various forms of transmission. Hepatitis A usually is transmitted via an oral-fecal route, and therefore can be more common among populations without regular running water. Hepatitis B is more likely to be transmitted sexually or through the sharing of needles. The opioid crisis has contributed to the rise in Hep B.
Hepatitis C is blood-borne, so it can be contracted by sharing needles or also from getting an organ transplant, blood transfusion or blood products before July 1992.
In addition to getting the vaccine, another way to avoid Hepatitis A is good hand hygiene. It is recommended to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for 30 seconds—about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice—after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
MCHD Clinical Services, in conjunction with the WVU School of Nursing, also has launched a Hepatitis Clinic that takes place on Fridays. Individuals who would like to make an appointment should call 304-598-5119.
If the community can be proactive and if individuals do their part, the hope is that a Hepatitis A outbreak will not take place here.