Hepatitis A is not curable but preventable

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee has now joined the ranks along with several other Florida counties reporting cases of hepatitis A in 2019. Okeechobee has reported two cases this year. Saint Lucie also reported two. Martin has reported 16, and Palm Beach has reported six this year. A community is considered high-risk after five cases have been reported, which means Palm Beach and Martin counties are both now considered high risk for hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine preventable, communicable, viral liver disease and is spread through contaminated food or water. According to the Florida Department of Health, it is spread primarily by ingesting something contaminated by the fecal matter of someone who has the virus. To put it into perspective, you can come into contact with it if someone does not thoroughly wash his hands after going to the restroom and then he prepares your sandwich at the diner, or he picks lettuce out in the field and you don’t wash it carefully before you eat it, or he goes to the grocery store and uses the grocery cart before you use it, and then you bite your fingernails.

Back in December, a study in England found fecal bacteria on every touch screen kiosk in McDonald’s in the UK, despite claims that the kiosks were cleaned daily. Just the thought of fecal bacteria on a McDonald’s touch screen kiosk is nauseating, but imagine what would happen if that same bacteria were infected with the hepatitis A bacteria.

Hepatitis A is also spread through sexual contact with a person infected with it. According to the Florida Department of Health, “Symptoms usually start weeks after infection and last less than two months. Some people can be sick for up to six months. You can have hepatitis A for up to two weeks without feeling sick, but during that time, you can spread it to others.” Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against hepatitis A germs.

Symptoms of hepatitis A are the following:
• Stomach pain
• Nausea and vomiting
• Jaundice
• Diarrhea
• Loss of appetite
• Joint pain
• Pale or clay colored stool
• Fever
• Fatigue
• Dark-colored urine

There is no cure for hepatitis A, but if you experience the symptoms listed, the Florida Department of Health recommends you seek medical care immediately. Although most people who contract hepatitis A do recover, 80% of those who have contracted it in Florida this year have required hospitalization, and three have died. The Florida Department of Health strongly urges vaccination against hepatitis A, especially if you are in close contact, care for or live with someone who has hepatitis A, use injection or non- injection drugs, are homeless or in temporary housing, have recently been incarcerated, are men who have had sex with other men, have recently visited a country where hepatitis A is common or are having sex with someone who has hepatitis A.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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