The Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Public Health is investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV), mirroring similar outbreaks in other states. Most of the cases have been reported in Morehouse Parish.
Dr. Frank Welch, immunization director for the Department of Health, said the Office of Public Health has received one-time funding to purchase hepatitis A vaccine. The Office is working with partner organizations to provide the vaccine to people experiencing homelessness or drug use, two of the most at-risk groups for hepatitis A.
With the uptick in hepatitis A cases, it’s important to keep the public informed about the illness.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a serious inflammation of the liver, which processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. When left untreated, hepatitis A can lead to liver failure and occasionally death. The highly contagious infection ranges from a mild illness of a few weeks to a severe illness of several months or more.
How is it spread?
Hepatitis A is spread most commonly through contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated with feces or stool from an infected person. Transmission is possible by not washing hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, having sex with infected partners, eating or drinking foods contaminated by hepatitis A, illegal drug use and close contact with someone infected with hepatitis A.
What are the symptoms?
Not all people with hepatitis A display symptoms, which can develop two to six weeks after infection and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Grey-colored stools
- Joint pain
Adults are more likely to display symptoms than children. Symptoms generally last less than two months, though some people may be ill for as long as six months.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Diagnosis is determined by taking a blood sample. Treatment usually includes rest, adequate nutrition, fluids and medical monitoring. Depending upon severity, some people will need hospitalization. It may take several months for a person to feel better.
Can hepatitis A be prevented?
Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing diapers is one of the easiest ways to prevent the transmission of hepatitis A.
However, the best prevention is vaccination. It’s recommended for all children, as well as for people with certain risk factors and medical conditions. People who are traveling to international countries with high incidences of HAV also are recommended to receive the vaccine.
Safe and effective, the hepatitis A vaccine consists of either two or three shots given one and six months apart. Contact your primary care provider or parish health unit. To find a parish health unit in your area, click here.
Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
- All children at 1 year of age
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
- Men who have sex with other men
- Users of illegal drugs
- People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People who have experienced homelessness or in transient living during the past year
- People recently in jail or prison
Who should not get the HAV vaccine?
- Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of hepatitis A vaccine or an allergic reaction to any of the components found in the vaccine
- Anyone who is moderately or severely ill
Where can I learn more?