The Cumberland Plateau Health District has the highest number of Hepatitis A cases in the state, according to health officials.
The Cumberland Plateau Health District, which includes the areas of Buchanan, Russell, Tazewell and Dickenson counties averaged three cases of Hepatitis A over the five years between 2014 and 2018 with eight of those coming in 2018.
But 13 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported this year, according to health officials.
State health officials say Virginia joins the rest of the nation in seeing an increase in cases of Hepatitis A, and the vaccine is the best way to prevent getting infected.
Hepatitis is a disease causing an inflammation of the liver, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website. The disease is divided into three categories; type A, which is a food-borne virus, and B and C, which are both blood-borne pathogens.
The health department’s Facebook page states Hepatitis A can be found in the feces of infected people and can contaminate surfaces, objects, food and water. People get sick by swallowing the contaminated food or water or by putting their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated surfaces or objects. The virus can also spread from person to person through sexual activity and sharing contaminated needles.
“The rates of hepatitis A have increased across the nation over the past 2-3 years,” Sue Cantrell, M.D., director of the Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco Health Districts, said. “Southwest Virginia is surrounded by states that had previously declared outbreaks including West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.”
“It is my belief that our proximity to such border states where the outbreaks were established earlier, as people travel/ move across those borders and travel generally, was a factor in exposure and disease transmission,” she added.
This increase contrasts sharply with the trends of type B and C which have both been declining in recent years. The district has seen no cases of acute Hepatitis B this year and only five cases of chronic Hepatitis B.
There have been two cases of Hepatitis C and 137 of chronic Hepatitis C. The five year average for Hepatitis C was 411. Statewide the average for Hepatitis A over five years is 79, but 55 cases have been reported in 2019. There have been 16 cases of acute Hepatitis B so far this year. The five year average is 24 cases a year.
Chronic Hepatitis B is at 566 cases statewide while the five year average was 1,945. Chronic Hepatitis C cases statewide are at 3,105 with the five year average at 9,477.
Health officials recommend getting the vaccine and contacting the local health department or a doctor if you think you may have been exposed to the virus. A vaccine or a shot of immunoglobulin within two weeks of the exposure will prevent severe illness.
There are no special medicines that can be used to treat a person once the symptoms begin. Symptoms usually appear within 4 weeks of exposure, according to the VDH website, and people can be infected for up to several months. Officials recommend good hand washing techniques in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
People who have been infected with Hepatitis A are asked to stay home from work or school, especially if they work in food service or with children.
For information about the prevention and treatment of Hepatitis A, visit www.virginia.gov/agencies/virginia-department-of-health.