Hepatitis A is cropping back up in Indiana.
The virus is different from hepatitis B and C, which are blood infections. Hepatitis A infects the liver, making a person sick for weeks or months at a time.
Though contracting the virus is preventable through vaccination, seven states including Indiana have seen hepatitis A outbreaks since March of last year.
Grant County has seen an increase in its number of hepatitis A cases, though a county-wide outbreak has not happened yet.
Marion General Hospital’s Angie Kitashoji specializes in infection control. She said at this time of year, MGH will have seen one or two cases of hepatitis A. This year, MGH has verified six cases since March, not all patients living in Grant County.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ve done this job for five years,” Kitashoji said.
The strain of hepatitis A that is causing the outbreak is a different type of hepatitis A than seen in years past, Kitashoji said. However, people who are vaccinated are immune to either kind.
If MGH takes a blood sample that tests positive for hepatitis A, they send it to the state of Indiana, which then determines if the virus is the type that is causing the outbreak.
MGH is not notified if their blood sample contains the outbreak type, but the state keeps records of outbreak cases by county.
As of June 29, Clark County led with 61 outbreak cases since November 2017. Second was Floyd County with 41, and then Harrison County with 10.
Grant County is not in the top seven leading counties of outbreak cases, but Kitashoji said the outbreak is not over yet and urges everyone to check their vaccination records and immunize against hepatitis A.
“Right now we’re in this lull where we’ve seen a few cases, but we’re going to see more cases,” Kitashoji said.
There’s no sure way to avoid contracting hepatitis A other than being vaccinated, said Elizabeth Richards, a professor at Purdue University’s School of Nursing.
The virus can be spread as easily as touching a contaminated surface. Because of this, Richards said going unvaccinated is a serious cause for concern.
Two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine are required for children in grades K-4, in sixth grade and for high school seniors; however, since that requirement is relatively new, Richards said older children and their parents may not have the vaccine.
The virus, Richards said, is transmitted through fecal matter, which poor handwashing habits help spread. If employees at a restaurant don’t wash hands meticulously, they may spread the virus to customers, contributing to the outbreak.
Once contracted, hepatitis A is extremely contagious, since symptoms don’t show for weeks after infection.
“One somebody has it, they typically don't realize they have it for many weeks, and during those weeks, they spread the virus,” Richards said.
Symptoms of hepatitis A are similar to those of the flu, including vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Some red flags of hepatitis A are if the sickness does not go away after about a week, or if jaundice appears.