GCHD suggests vaccine, good hygiene to help prevent spread of Hepatitis A

Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

As Franklin County continues to document more Hepatitis A outbreaks, the Gasconade County Health Department (GCHD) is suggesting at-risk groups take precautions.

Gasconade County Health Department Administrator Greg Lara said everyone should take precautions.

“If you are in some of the high-risk groups, take all the precautions you can,” he said. “Hygiene, washing hands when in contact with people in high risk groups, maintain some sort of barrier or anything that you can do to prevent cross-contamination issues.”

While the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has released updates about food industry employs being diagnosed with the virus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t list public food workers as at risk.

“I don’t think there are more at-risk food employees than the others,” Lara said. “I think it (food industry) expands the problem more. If you are working in the food industry and have a disease like Hepatitis A, it can potentially affect more people. That gets widely publicized.”

Babies and toddlers are another group that could be susceptible to the virus, but are not listed in the at-risk group.

“Basically because of how toddlers and young kids are with putting things in their mouth, being around other kids in daycare systems, etcetera, they can be more susceptible,” Lara said. “A lot of people have already been vaccinated for it. A lot of people have elected to have children vaccinated at a younger age; 12 months or older has been recommended to get the vaccine.”

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, and light colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes might also occur. People can become ill up to seven weeks after being exposed to the virus. 

It usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool (poop) from an infected person. 

In addition to vaccination, careful hand washing with soap and water, including under the fingernails, after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food can help prevent the spread of this disease.

“If you feel you may have Hepatitis A, you need to go see your doctor,” Lara said. “Try to prevent from being around other groups of people. Restaurant workers, we go by state rules for food workers; if you are sick, don’t go to work. If you have flu-type symptoms, such as fever or diarrhea, stay home to keep from getting someone else sick.”

Anyone who would like to be vaccinated should make an appointment with the health department. Gasconade County has an office in Hermann that is open Monday through Friday.

“There are occasions where we may have some other clinics outside, or nurses in training that we may not have one available. It is better off for people to call and let us know so we have time available,” Lara said.

Owensville has a satellite office.

“Since WIC clinics are on Mondays, we try to steer people away from that date to get vaccinations,” Lara said. “We have a nurse there on Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and if you could schedule an appointment then, that would sure make things easier on us.”

Hepatitis A is a two shot vaccine.

“The first dose is 95 percent effective,” Lara said. “The second booster shot is after six months and is good for 11 years.”

Lara said he is unsure if the outbreaks of late are unusually high. However, DHSS released that cases are on the rise, and reported 424 cases of Hepatitis A in Missouri since 2017.

“We haven’t had an issue in our county, but we are right next to Franklin County, so we want to make sure we are prepared and educated to try to prevent it from happening here.”

Lara said the biggest advice he can give is to wash hands, and if anyone is feeling sick, stay away from others to prevent it from spreading.