Recently, a series of hepatitis A exposures in South Carolina have brought attention to the dangers of hepatitis A. As of May 13, 2019, DHEC declared a statewide hepatitis A outbreak. Many are now wondering what exactly is hepatitis A, how is the disease spread and if it is curable.
While chances of becoming infected are low, here are five fast facts about hepatitis A you should know:
- Hepatitis A is a short-term viral infection causing inflammation of the liver. In 2016, there were an estimated 4,000 Hepatitis A cases in the United States. Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.
- Hepatitis A is preventable by receiving a vaccine. The vaccine consists of two shots administered six months apart. If exposed to the hepatitis A virus, a vaccine can be given up to two weeks after exposure in order to prevent infection. DHEC’s local health departments provide hepatitis A vaccines and are currently providing no-cost vaccinations to individuals in at-risk groups.
- Symptoms may not appear until the infection has advanced. Symptoms start to develop two to six weeks after exposure, and include fever, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, dark urine, and yellow skin (Jaundice).
- Hepatitis A is spread from person-to-person contact with someone who has the infection or through eating or drinking food or water contaminated by an infected person. It is also contracted through sex or close contact with an infected person, such as a household member. Hepatitis A can be found in the blood and stool of a person infected with the virus and is “usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Food contamination can happen at any point, from growing and harvesting to transporting and cooking. Proper hand washing is vital to preventing the spread of the virus.
- If you had hepatitis A once, you cannot get it again. Most people who contract hepatitis A usually recover without having long-lasting liver damage. Once you recover, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life.
For the latest list of possible hepatitis A exposures at restaurants in South Carolina visit: https://www.scdhec.gov/health/infectious-diseases/hepatitis-overview/hepatitis-possible-restaurant-exposure.
To schedule an appointment for vaccination at your local health department, call 1-855-472-3432 or visit www.scdhec.gov/health/health-public-health-clinics for locations and hours of operation.