Nothing is ever truly gone forever.
Such is the case with Hepatitis A, which has made a resurgence in Louisiana in the past three years.
The Louisiana Department of Health tracks the disease, along with many others, to keep an eye on infection rates and the possibility that any particular infection may leave a community — or spread further.
Unfortunately for Livingston Parish, Hepatitis A has found its way back into the population, to the tune of about 50 cases in the past two years. The parish actually leads the pack in Louisiana, with Morehouse, East Baton Rouge, and Ouachita parishes directly behind.
According to the Department of Health, the most recent spread cannot be tracked to food or beverages. Instead, Dr. Frank Welch, the immunization director for the department, says that the transmission can be tracked through person-to-person contact and illicit drug use.
On Dec. 18, 2018, the Department of Health declared a state of emergency surrounding the disease, deeming it an "outbreak" in the hopes it would bring public awareness to the fact. Officials added that people with a history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing, and incarceration are most at-risk in this outbreak.
Drug use, especially prescription anti-depressants, has been on the rise since the Great Flood of 2016. Combined with destroyed homes and homelessness, Hepatitis A found a home in Livingston Parish.
Through federal and state funding, the Department is partnering with communities to respond quickly to new clusters and vaccinate high-risk individuals to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A. So far, the state has purchased 3,000 doses of the vaccine and intends to purchase 1,600 more.
Hepatitis A is a serious, highly-contagious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus that is found in the feces of people with Hepatitis A.
The illness is spread by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated beverages, during sex or through close contact such as living with an infected person. Illness can appear 15-50 days after exposure and people can be sick for several weeks. In some cases, people can die.
Although not all people infected with Hepatitis A experience illness, symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling tired
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Pale-colored feces
- Joint pain
Adults are more likely to display symptoms than children. Symptoms generally last less than two months, though some people may be ill for as long as six months.
Diagnosis is obtained through a blood sample. Treatment usually includes rest, adequate nutrition, fluids and medical monitoring.
The two most important methods of preventing the spread of HAV are hand washing and vaccination. Because the most common spread of HAV is through the fecal-oral route, people should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
Vaccination is safe and effective, consisting of either two or three shots given one and six months apart. It is recommended for:
- All children at 1 year of age
- Travelers to countries where HAV is common
- Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where HAV is common
- Men who have sex with other men
- Users of illegal drugs
- People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- People with clotting-factor disorders
- People who have experienced homelessness or in transient living during the past year
- People recently in jail or prison
- Any person wishing to obtain immunity (protection)