The first thing officials say is there is no reason to panic. And if you want to go out to eat, please, go ahead and go out to eat.
However, Portsmouth city health officials said Monday there are now three confirmed cases of hepatitis A locally, two in the city and one outside the city limits in Scioto County. None of the cases involve any food worker, according to Belinda Leslie, spokesperson for the Portsmouth health department, as well as Molly Davis, an epidemiologist for Portsmouth and the county.
The cases apparently cropped up over the weekend. On Friday, city officials said there were no cases of hepatitis A reported in either Portsmouth or Scioto County. Early Monday, a county official said there was one potential case outside of Portsmouth, but in Scioto County. By Monday afternoon, Davis was saying three local cases had been “laboratory confirmed.”
As has been widely reported in other media, an undetermined number of hepatitis A cases possibly related to various restaurants have been reported in West Virginia and Kentucky. The three cases reported Monday are the first in Scioto County. In mid-April, the Portsmouth health department advised anyone who ate at the Texas Roadhouse in Ashland, Ky., between March 20 and April 12 to receive the hepatitis A vaccine as a prevention to developing the disease. One worker at the restaurant was diagnosed with the sickness, but the risk of getting hepatitis A from that person was described as low. Since then, media reports have linked incidents of hepatitis A to restaurants in at least two of the states neighboring Ohio.
Davis said healthcare providers are required by law to report cases of hepatitis A, as well as a long list of other illnesses, to local health authorities. She said neither the county nor the city generally do any field work themselves, but will follow up on cases by phone. If they deem it necessary, officials can and have contacted the friends and family of persons affected by reportable illnesses. In this instance, Davis said they might urge the contacts of those diagnosed to receive the hepatitis A vaccine as a precaution.
Hepatitis A characteristically has an abrupt onset, according to the website of the Ohio Department of Health. Symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, clay-colored stools and jaundice. Many infections are mild and without jaundice. Infected children, particularly infants and toddlers, are frequently asymptomatic (in other words, showing no symptoms). Illness can last one to two weeks or, rarely, several months. The fatality rate is less than 0.1 percent.
According to the state, the only source for transmission of the hepatitis A virus is the stool of infected persons. Infection is acquired by ingestion of the virus. Spreading of the virus occurs then because of poor hygiene. A county health department spokesperson said frequent hand washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is a strong deterrent to spreading the virus. The spokesperson added persons should especially wash their hands after using the restroom and before preparing or eating any food. The hepatitis A vaccine has been described as “highly effective” if you get it within 14 days of exposure.
“It’s very safe and has been around for a long time,” the county spokesperson said regarding the hepatitis A vaccine.
Individuals can receive the vaccine from their primary care doctor or pediatrician and many local pharmacies, according to the city health department. Individuals should contact their local pharmacy beforehand to check on vaccine availability and insurance requirements.
The vaccine also can be obtained at the Scioto County Health Department, located in the Scioto County Courthouse. A very limited number of vaccines are available from the county for persons with no insurance. Call 740-355-8362.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931