2 local deaths linked to Hep A outbreak, says public health officials

The recent deaths of two area people who had hepatitis A concerns local health officials, who are worried about a year-long outbreak that has killed seven in Ohio and hospitalized more than 1,000.

Clark County Combined Health District reported Thursday that the deaths of two people in the county were related to the highly contagious viral liver disease, which can spread through even a microscopic amount of fecal matter.

“We are working with our local and state partners to slow the spread of hepatitis A, but this disease is highly contagious and can spread rapidly, so prevention is critical,” said Charles Patterson, Clark County Health Commissioner.

The health district said the cases have been thoroughly investigated and appropriate actions taken, but in order to protect the privacy of the families, additional details about the people and cases are not being released. They did say one of the deaths from hepatitis A was not related to the most recent statewide outbreak.

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Patterson urged Clark County residents to get vaccinated and practice good hand washing, especially if they are in a high-risk population.

The health district has been working with the most at risk groups — such as the homeless, illicit drug users, those in jail, and men who have sex with men. But anyone could get hepatitis A if they touch their mouth or eat food after coming in contact with fecal matter from an infected individual.

The Ohio cases have ranged from a one-year-old child and to an 84-year-old. There have been 1,092 Ohio hospitalizations and 1,746 confirmed cases as of Feb. 19, according to Ohio Department of Health.

Montgomery and Butler counties have had the highest number of cases in the state for the past year.

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Before 2018, Clark County didn’t have a confirmed case of the disease since 2011. As of Monday, the Ohio Department of Health reports there are 27 Clark County cases that are confirmed as part of the outbreak. The total number of cases reported by a local public health district can be more than the state numbers because some cases are not part of the outbreak or not yet confirmed a part of the outbreak, and sometime the cases haven’t yet been recorded at the state level.

There has also been a Montgomery County death as part of the outbreak. The death was reported in October.

The Ohio Department of Health reports that outbreaks of hepatitis A are also occurring in neighboring states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, clay-colored stools and jaundice. People with hepatitis A can experience mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe illness lasting several months. Those who have been exposed to someone with hepatitis A or who have symptoms should contact their provider.

Hepatitis A is vaccine preventable and county health departments have been bringing vaccines to areas with populations with higher risk of getting the virus, such as homeless camps and jails. In 2018, Montgomery County provided 3,108 hepatitis A vaccinations and did 100 outreach clinics to provide vaccinations for those at the most risk.

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The vaccine is recommended but not a required, so not all children receive it. Also, the vaccine was first recommended for children in 1996, so many adults might not be vaccinated. Public health departments carry the vaccine and you can also check with your pharmacist, provider, or an area retail clinic.

The rate of hepatitis A cases has been much higher than most years, where there might be 40 to 45 occurrences.

In January, the state’s epidemiologist Sietske de Fijter said counties that were initially hit hard and started prevention efforts have seen cases slowing though in areas that weren’t hit as hard initially and didn’t start prevention efforts as early, the rate of new cases is still on the rise.

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