Public health officials have confirmed 53 cases of hepatitis A among Bartow County residents since June 2018 and are continuing to urge vaccination against the highly contagious liver infection for people most at risk of the vaccine-preventable disease, especially illicit (injection and non-injection) drug users, individuals who have recently been in jail or prison, and their close contacts. Officials are also encouraging all persons who work in food-service establishments, such as restaurants and cafeterias, to be vaccinated.
“Hepatitis A continues to spread among Bartow County residents,” said Dr. Zachary Taylor, interim health director for the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District, “and we are working to stop it here before it becomes any more widespread. The best protection against hepatitis A is vaccination.”
The Bartow County Health Department, 100 Zena Drive, Cartersville, is offering free hepatitis A vaccinations during regular business hours. No appointment is needed.
The 53 hepatitis A cases in Bartow County residents are a significant increase since July of this year when 11 cases were reported. Since June 2018, 761 cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed statewide. Of these, 320 cases, 42% of the state total, have been in the ten-county Northwest Health District, which includes Bartow County
Bartow’s 53 confirmed cases represent almost 7% of the state total. For perspective, the entire Northwest Health District normally confirms, on average, one hepatitis A case per year.
According to the CDC, Georgia is one of 30 states that since 2016 have experienced a widespread person-to-person outbreak of the highly contagious liver infection, which has hospitalized about 60% of Georgians who’ve recently gotten it.
Those most at risk of hepatitis A include:
- illicit (injection and non-injection) drug users,
- individuals who have a history of incarceration in jail or prison,
- men who have sex with men,
- close contacts of people with hepatitis A,
- homeless or transient individuals, and
- persons with close contact to someone with these risk factors.
“We urge individuals with one or more of these risk factors, especially illicit drug use, to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Taylor. “If you’ve had hepatitis A, you have lifelong immunity to the disease and do not need to be vaccinated. Also, since hepatitis A vaccination is required for school-age children born on or after January 1, 2006, these individuals may not need vaccination. Health department staff can check your vaccination status if you are unsure if you were previously vaccinated.”
“Adults should get the vaccine if they fit into one of these risk factors. If they don’t, their risk is so low that getting vaccinated is a matter of personal preference. If you are not sure whether you should get the hepatitis A vaccine, talk with your doctor about your specific concerns.”
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to practice good hygiene, proper handwashing, careful and sanitary preparation of food, and by getting vaccinated against the hepatitis A virus. You should get hepatitis A vaccine if you:
- use illicit drugs,
- work in the food-service industry,
- are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common,
- are a man who has sex with other men,
- have a chronic liver disease such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C,
- expect to have close personal contact with someone who is at risk of having hepatitis A.
Ask your healthcare provider if you want more information about any of these groups. There are no known risks to getting hepatitis A vaccine at the same time as other vaccines.
Two shots given six months apart arerecommended for lifelong protection against hepatitis A. The first shot alone affords protection for up to 11 years. The health department can provide the second shot to individuals who request it. To conserve vaccine, only the first shot is free. The second dose may be covered by Medicaid, Medicare Part D, or a private insurance plan. If so, there would be no out-of-pocket expense. Otherwise, cost of the second hepatitis shot is about $100
For more information about hepatitis A and free hepatitis A vaccinations, contact the Bartow County Health Department at 770-382-1920 or visit https://nwgapublichealth.org