Phelps-Maries Health Department suggests vaccinating to prevent spread of Hepatitis A

Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

With Hepatitis A cases on the rise in Missouri and at least one case in neighboring Gasconade and Phelps counties, the Phelps-Maries Health Department suggests vaccination as one of the main ways to prevent the spread of the outbreak.

Phelps-Maries County Health Department Deputy Director Julie Conway said the vaccination may prevent the spread of the disease, even if the person has been exposed.

“If you think you have been exposed, it is not too late to be vaccinated,” Conway said. “In fact, if you think you have been exposed, vaccination is recommended.”

Conway suggests citizens not hesitate to call or come into the health department to see if they have already been vaccinated or if they need to update their vaccine.

“We offer immunizations on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Thursday,” Conway said. “We accept insurance, Medicaid, and self-pay for those who are uninsured.”

For those who are not insured, the cost of the immunization depends on their financial situation.

As of Thursday, Aug. 29, 424 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in Missouri, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). According to a DHSS press release on Aug. 21, 233 reported cases were associated with hospitalizations and two Hepatitis A outbreak-associated deaths.

DHSS released that the disease appears to be spreading through direct person-to-person contact, mostly among people who  use illicit injection or non-injection drugs and their close contacts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most at-risk populations appear to be persons who:

• Use recreational drugs;

• Are experiencing homelessness;

• Are men who have sex with men;

• Are in treatment or counseling for substance abuse;

• Are receiving drug substitution treatment and/or participate in drug court;

• Work or have been detained in jail or a detention center; or, 

• Have close contact with the above group(s) or a confirmed Hepatitis A case.

Members of at least one of these at-risk groups who have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis A can contact the local public health agency in their area with questions or to request 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 anyone notices symptoms of Hepatitis A, they should contact their healthcare provider. For further information about Hepatitis A, visit the DHSS website.