The Grapevine

Hepatitis A Outbreak: How To Reduce Risk Of Infection

The on-going hepatitis A outbreak in Tennessee has resulted in over 400 cases, particularly in areas like Chattanooga and Nashville. Now, the outbreak has claimed one life in East Tennessee, according to state officials.

"We are very saddened by the recent death associated with hepatitis A and realize, unfortunately, we could see more deaths, as this continues to be a very serious outbreak with more than half of the people identified with the illness needing hospitalization," said Dr. John Dreyzehner, health commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

Though the outbreak has made quite an impact, the number of cases have been significantly reduced. This can be attributed to efforts by the TDH which provided high-risk groups with more than 36,000 doses of hepatitis A vaccine. These groups include men who engage in sex with men, homeless people, and those who use illegal drugs. 

"We will continue to respond aggressively, vaccinating high-risk populations, educating and working with partners in and out of Tennessee to seek additional ways to stem this outbreak," Dreyzehner added.

The vaccination, which offers protection after a single dose, is recommended for all children over the age of one. Maintaining good personal hygiene is also regarded as an important measure to prevent infection during an outbreak.

Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly before and after activities like using the toilet or changing diapers. Additionally, wash your produce and avoid eating meat and fish in raw or undercooked form. Do not take the risk of drinking any unbottled beverage if you are unsure of how clean it is.

Though the on-going outbreak has been linked to recreational drug use for the most, it can also happen due to consumption of contaminated food and water. Close contact, especially sexual, with an infected person can also cause the virus to spread.

The liver suffers inflammation once you are infected by the hepatitis A virus. You may experience a range of symptoms such as fever, tiredness, dark-colored urine, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, yellowing of the eyes and skin, etc.

While rare cases result in liver failure or death, most people tend to recover without any long-term complications. It should be noted that some infected individuals may not always exhibit symptoms or even appear ill but still remain contagious.

"It can be a matter of three to four weeks before you get sick, so nobody knows you're infected, but you can still transmit the virus," said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

This is the reason why hepatitis A is "so very hard to figure out from a public health perspective," he added. "You’re always running behind the virus, you're always trying to catch up."