Georgia is experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak and Chattooga County is one area seeing a concentration of those cases, the state Department of Public Health said.
Since January, 316 cases of hepatitis A have been identified statewide. Out of the 159 counties in Georgia, Chattooga County has 24 confirmed cases. The Northwest Georgia Public Health region, which consists of 10 counties has a significant amount of the hepatitis A cases with 143 confirmed, according to Northwest Georgia Public Health District spokesman Logan Boss.
An outbreak of Hepatitis A cases started earlier this year in Tennessee and slowly started trickling into Northwest Georgia, according to Boss.
“We have been dealing with a hepatitis A outbreak that is not confined to Chattooga County,” Boss said.
This highly contagious liver infection is spread like many viruses. It’s ingested from objects, food or drinks that are contaminated by small, undetected amounts of feces from an infected person, according to state health officials.
It’s also spread through personal contact with an infected person. Such examples include sexual contact or even close personal contact.
Friday a local health official said the number of new cases in Chattooga seems to be leveling off. The rate of infection has spiked more than the previous years. In 2017, only 24 cases reported and there were 37 confirmed in 2016.
“Some of the groups that are high-risk include drug users, homeless people, men who have sex with men,” Boss said.
The high-risk group also includes people who are or were recently incarcerated, people with chronic liver disease including cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, according to state health officials.
“They really have seen an increase among methamphetamine users,” Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader.
His deputies and jail staff regularly deal with two groups of people considered high-risk – inmates and drug users.
“We have not made it mandatory to vaccinate the jail. We are talking with our medical provider to see if there is a need,” Sheriff Schrader said.
There are things people can do to prevent hepatitis A, according to Boss.
Vaccination is on the top of that list, especially for people that are in the high-risk group.
The health department is offering vaccinations to deputies and jail staff, the sheriff said.
“The health department went out of their way to help,” the sheriff said.
In addition to vaccines, people can wash their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food, according to state health information.
“People can contact the Chattooga County Health Department, 60 Farrar Drive, Summerville, 706-857-3471 for information about hepatitis A and the hepatitis A vaccine,” Boss said.
Hepatitis A symptoms include:
* Yellow skin or eyes (Jaundice)
* Joint pain
* Loss of appetite
* Abdominal pain
* Dark urine
* Clay-colored stools
Symptoms range from mild to severe and last a few weeks to several months. Rarely, hepatitis A causes death. Some people will need medical care in a hospital, according to state health officials.