First incidents in 5 years, but flu potential more worrisome
Symptoms and help with Hep A
Symptoms of hepatitis A can resemble the flu — fever, fatigue, vomiting and stomach pain — but infected individuals also have jaundice or dark urine. Most adults get symptoms two to seven weeks after exposure to the virus, but some don’t develop any symptoms. People can spread the virus even if they don’t feel sick, according to DOH.
For questions about hepatitis A and possible exposure, call Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones at (509) 422-7158.
There are four confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Okanogan County, Okanogan County Public Health reported Jan. 8. There are no cases in the Methow Valley.
The four individuals with a confirmed diagnosis – and their close contacts – have been immunized, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said. There is no treatment for hepatitis A – only supportive care – but immunization builds antibodies that fight the disease.
The local cases are not connected with a restaurant. “It’s fairly contained, and everything is under control,” Jones said.
Jones said she’s more concerned about the flu, which has infected many children across the county. “Wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home when sick,” she said. Methow Valley School District nurse Adriana Vanbianchi advised people to get flu shots – to protect themselves and the more-vulnerable young and old members of the community.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection transmitted through human fecal-oral contact. This can happen when an infected person who prepares or handles food doesn’t wash his or her hands adequately after using the toilet (or changing the diaper of an infected child) and then touches other people’s food, according to a fact sheet from the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC). It can also be sexually transmitted.
Even microscopic amounts of fecal matter can transmit the disease. The virus can live on surfaces for a long time and remain contagious, Jones said.
Thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water helps prevent hepatitis A, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).
Hepatitis A ranges from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months, according to DOH.
Hepatitis A causes only an acute infection and, once someone recovers, he or she develops life-long protection from future infections, according to the IAC. Hepatitis B and C are different diseases, transmitted by blood and contaminated syringes, and can result in chronic liver disease.
DOH declared a hepatitis A outbreak in Washington last July, with 167 cases, 94 hospitalizations, and three deaths as of Jan. 9.
Until this year, there had been no cases of hepatitis A in Okanogan County in the past five years, according to DOH.
The incidence of hepatitis A has plummeted dramatically over the past 40 years, a period when Washington recorded cases in the thousands (in nine of those years). The frequency of large community-wide outbreaks has decreased since the hepatitis A vaccination was routinely recommended for all children, Kristen Maki, a public information officer with DOH, said. Since 2003, the highest number of cases in Washington was 69, with cases in most recent years a half to a third of that, according to state data.
Once someone has been immunized against hepatitis A (an initial shot plus a booster), the protection lasts for decades, according to IAC. Many people get the vaccine when they travel to areas with inadequate sanitation.