When there is a rise in cases of any disease concentrated in a particular area or demographic, eyebrows raise. Diseases exist – that is the fact of life. How we contract, handle, and prevent them is what should concern us the most. In Ohio, such an issue has come to the attention of Health Organizations in recent days: Hepatitis A. And Ohio is not the only state struggling. Hep A cases are on the rise in several states nationwide.
Compared to five cases this time last year, Ohio and surrounding states are dealing with forty-seven so far this year. There is always a reason. Sometimes it is harder to find out where and why a virus concentrates in a certain area but it’s there. So far there is none. This particular one is causing local organizations to scratch their heads a little. On a positive side: this can be contained, prevented, and vaccinated against.
What is Hepatitis A?
A brief understanding of what Hepatitis is can help us understand how to prevent it as well as recognize a potentially troubling disease.
According to The World Health Organization, “Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, taxis substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases cause hepatitis.”
There are five classifications: A, B, C, D, and E. For more information on the different types and what/why there are that many refer to this information packed page. Knowing the different types can also help us understand transmission and prevention.
Contracting Hepatitis A – Are You at Risk?
After researching Hepatitis A, I believe there are two schools of thought here. It is also of note that even though there seems to be two ideas, the two are intertwined. In order to get the most information into your hands, I will mention both.
The first way of contracting Hepatitis A is through ingesting food and water tainted with fecal matter. If a food is tainted, the person ingesting the food could in turn contract Hepatitis A. When it is in our control (eating at home versus eating at a restaurant) we need to be vigilant. Washing and cooking food thoroughly will go a long way in keeping us safe.
Another common way to contract Hepatitis A is through close contact with someone already infected. This may seem obvious but to many it is easily overlooked.
Close contact does not mean hugging or being close to someone. It refers to intimate kissing, relations, and needle use. Be aware of the difference.
Pro Tip: Do. Your. Research. Every day we are told how to think. Listening to one source of information can lead to disinformation. When it concerns the health of you and family: check facts, read, research, and discuss topics often.
It is important to remember this is not considered an outbreak due to standards of Health Organizations. An outbreak occurs when two or more cases can be linked.
Know the Higher Risk Job Fields
Even though anyone can contract Hepatitis A, it is important to note here there are a few who are at higher risks. These include:
- Those working as a health care professional
- Sewage/Water Treatment Plant workers
- Those with multiple sexual partners
- Intravenous drug users
- Those with HIV
- Those with hemophilia
- Child care workers
Again, all walks of life can contract Hepatitis A. The key here is to wash hands regularly, be mindful of your surroundings, and wash food/clothes/utensils/clothing … anything coming in contact with fecal matter.
Recognizing Signs and Symptoms
As with any sickness, symptoms can vary from person to person. It is important to see a doctor if anything out of the ordinary happens. It is also important to understand that if left unchecked, Hepatitis A can lead to liver damage and failure. Here are a few of the more common symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Dark urine or pale bowel movements
- Stomach pain
- Jaundice (yellowing eyes and skin)
There’s some great news here though. Hepatitis A does respond to vaccines. If you or someone you know becomes sick DO NOT WAIT.
What is Ohio doing about this?
As I mentioned above, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is having a difficult time getting to the bottom of this sever uptick in cases. Because these cases are spread out over many counties and demographics, it is not easy to get to the bottom of when and where this started. As of now, the ODH is asking everyone to be careful when preparing food and eating out. For a list of counties most affected or to see if you are in a higher risk area check this list.
We can reduce the numbers.
First and foremost, keeping food clean and away from harmful bacteria and viruses should be our number one line of defense. Secondly, we need to be careful and cautious when we do eat at a restaurant. Last, but in my opinion the most important, is staying informed. Be it local or nationwide, knowing the facts is the best way to stay healthy.
I will take it a step farther and caution each of us to pay attention to our friends and families. If someone you know is having symptoms or showing signs of Hepatitis A or any multitude of food borne illnesses; make sure they get the care they need.
There is plenty of the vaccine to go around. According to a media interview this month, “The supply for children is fine, and there is enough adult supply to meet demand,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “As for people talking to their doctors, it would depend on whether their doctor stocks the vaccine.” The article further commented that “[the] CDC and vaccine manufacturers continue to monitor ongoing demand for hepatitis A vaccine closely, Nordlund said.”
Wash your hands. Get Vaccinated. And have a safe summer!
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)