The number of hepatitis A cases in Hamilton County continues to rise. Since May 2018, 54 cases have been reported to the Health Department. By comparison, zero to one cases per year are reported in non-outbreak years. The best way residents can protect themselves is by getting the hepatitis A vaccine, knowing how the virus is transmitted, and taking preventive actions.
The Health Department works proactively and creatively to prevent the spread of the virus.
Its efforts have focused on vaccinating those with the highest risk first. Evidence in this outbreak shows that those at highest risk are recreational drug users, homeless or transient people, and men who have sex with men. Health Department outreach teams offer education and vaccine in hard-to-reach homeless camps, homeless shelters, LGBT nightclubs and events, substance abuse treatment centers, a needle exchange clinic, and in the jails. Since May 2018, over 2,800 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine have been given.
When a diagnosis of hepatitis A is made, the healthcare provider is required to report it to the Health Department. The Health Department then follows up with the case and their close contacts to prevent the spread of the disease.
“While the current outbreak is associated with certain risk behaviors more than others, anyone can get the hepatitis A virus,“ said Connie Buecker, manager of the Health Department’s Communicable Disease Clinics, “Many viruses are easily transmitted from person to person and you cannot know when you could be exposed.”
The Health Department offers the hepatitis A vaccine free to anyone who requests it.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection spread via a fecal-oral route. Contamination is microscopic and often associated with poor hygiene. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. About half of the people who become infected in this outbreak will require hospitalization. The disease can result in death.
Vaccination is recommended for certain groups, including:
· Users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not;
· People who are homeless or transient;
· Men who have sexual encounters with other men;
· Anyone who has sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A;
· Families and caregivers of anyone who has hepatitis A;
· People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C;
· All children at age 1 year (required for kindergarten in TN since 2011);
· Travelers to countries where Hepatitis A is common;
· Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where Hepatitis A is common;
· People with clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia.
Symptoms of hepatitis A usually occur quickly and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice. Symptoms usually last less than two months, although 10%–15% of symptomatic persons have prolonged or relapsing disease for up to six months.
Other preventive measures for hepatitis A include washing hands regularly, especially before eating or preparing food, after changing diapers, after cleaning up the stool of an infected person, and after going to the bathroom.
All Health Department clinic locations welcome walk-in clients for the hepatitis A vaccine:
· Chattanooga, 921 East 3rd Street, Chattanooga TN, 37403, 423-209-8340
· Birchwood, 5625 Hwy 60, Birchwood TN, 37308, 423-961-0446
· Ooltewah, 5520 High St, Ooltewah TN, 37363, 423-238-4269
· Sequoyah/Soddy-Daisy, 9527 West Ridge Trail Rd, Soddy Daisy TN, 37379, 423-842-3031
· Homeless Health Care Center, 730 East 11th St, Chattanooga TN 37403, 423- 265-5708
To find out the latest number of cases in Hamilton County and to learn more about the disease, visit the Health Department’s hepatitis A webpage here. You may also visit cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav or call the Epidemiology section at 209-8190.