SOWEGA public health officials say hepatitis A not on rise in region, but is in Georgia
ALBANY — Hepatitis A, a highly-contagious liver infection, is on the rise in Georgia, prompting public health officials to recommend residents to learn about the disease and to get vaccinated against it.
“The state has seen an increase in hepatitis A, which can lead to a severe illness lasting several months, or which may have no symptoms at all,” Jacqueline Jenkins, epidemiologist with the Southwest Public Health District, said. “In rare cases, it can cause liver failure and death.
“We want residents to be aware that the infection is circulating in Georgia so they can know what to do to prevent it.”
Hepatitis A is vaccine-preventable. Even though the infection is surging in parts of the state, Jenkins emphasized that cases of the illness are not increasing in the southwest Georgia health district.
“We had no confirmed cases here last year, and so far this year to date we have none,” she said. “We’d like to keep it that way.”
The vaccine is available at county health departments and is affordable, safe and effective, Health District Director Dr. Charles Ruis said.
“The health departments accept most insurance,” he said. “Low-pay and no-pay options are also available for qualified applicants.”
The vaccine is usually administered in a series of two doses, which should confer immunity, Ruis said. It can be given to pregnant women and to people with compromised immune systems, such as people on dialysis or people with AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The CDC also said administering an extra dose of hepatitis A vaccine is not harmful if a person’s vaccine history is not known. The vaccine may be administered concurrently with other vaccines.
Once a person has had hepatitis A, he or she is protected against getting it again, Ruis said. Some groups are at risk for the disease, and Ruis urged them to get vaccinated against it.
Those at risk for hepatitis A include:
— Substance abusers (both injection and non-injection);
— Children age 1 or older;
— Men who have sex with men;
— Homeless individuals;
— Those who come in close contact and household members of people who have the illness;
— People with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C;
People traveling to places where hepatitis A is common.
Symptoms of hepatitis A may include vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, headache and diarrhea. The infection is typically transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or by consuming contaminated food or water.