FAIRMONT – As of Oct. 15, there have been 2,577 cases of Hepatitis A reported in West Virginia.
According to the West Virginia Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services, this number has been on the rise since March of last year, and the spread of the disease has been labeled an outbreak.
Sandra Hassenpflug, director of nursing at the Marion County Health Department, said Hepatitis A spreads through bodily contact with feces, or contact with those who already carry the disease, so the state could be experiencing an influx because of this.
“It is among people, the injection drug users, that’s a very high-risk population right now that is spreading it,” Hassenpflug said. “It happens if you don’t wash your hands and obviously we’re having outbreaks in restaurants because people aren’t washing their hands properly when using the bathroom.”
Hassenpflug said that Hepatitis in most of its forms is sometimes known as the “silent disease,” because the symptoms may not be noticeable at first, or mistaken for another sickness. The immediate symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, joint pain, stomach pains and yellow eyes and dark urine and fecal matter. These symptoms can set in within two to six weeks after infection, and last from two to six months.
In the long term, the disease could infect the liver and result in damage or even death, Hassenpflug said.
“Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver,” Hassenpflug said. “You can have it and not even have symptoms for decades, and then all of a sudden you have liver damage.”
Marion County itself has reported 20 cases of Hep A, according to the OEPS, while other counties have reported as many as 811. Hassenpflug also listed risk factors for contracting the disease and said that men who have sex with men, people who are homeless or transient, and those who have been incarcerated are at risk for potentially having Hepatitis A.
Those at risk, Hassenpflug said, should get checked and treated, or otherwise get the vaccine to stave off the virus.
“It’s important that if you have one Hepatitis, that you get the treatment,” Hassenpflug said. “It’s rare, but it occurs more commonly in persons 50 or older and people with other liver diseases.”
While the outbreak has been gaining traction over time, Hassenpflug said that Hep A actually has a vaccine that could prevent an individual from contracting the virus. She said the OEPS recommends the vaccine for those who may be in the group of risk factors and those with other liver diseases.
“We screen everyone that comes through the Health Department for Hepatitis A,” Hassenpflug said. “And we provide, if they have risk factors with a free, state Hepatitis A vaccination against it.”
For more information on Hepatitis A or its vaccine, call the Marion County Health Department at 304-366-3360.