Let’s take a moment to reflect on your day. How many times did you wash your hands today? Did you wash them before eating? How about after using the bathroom? What about the food you ate today? Did you prepare it yourself, or did someone else prepare it? Did that person wash their hands before preparing your food?
Depending on how you answered these questions you may have put your liver at risk for getting hepatitis A.
Idaho has seen a 950% increase of hepatitis A cases reported this year . . . 950%! And Idaho is not alone in the increasing hepatitis A cases; 26 other states are also experiencing an outbreak with no signs of slowing down.
So, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? Is this really something I need to be worried about?” The answer is yes.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus and is found in human excrement. You heard right: human poop. It can easily be spread through poor hand washing, sex (or close contact) with an infected person, eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and recreational drug use. And here’s the kicker: A person infected with hepatitis A can spread the virus to others even when they don’t feel sick.
Hepatitis A is not to be taken lightly. If you do become ill with hepatitis A, symptoms include:
- feeling tired
- loss of appetite
- yellow skin or eyes
- upset stomach or stomach pain
- throwing up
- dark urine or light-colored stools
- joint pain
The symptoms can be mild – lasting a few weeks – or they can be severe – lasting for several months – and could result in lost days of work.
Now that I have your attention: Don’t panic. Hepatitis A is preventable; you can do something to protect yourself. Call and make an appointment with a health care provider or local public health department to get vaccinated.
In the meantime – while you are waiting to get your vaccine – remember to wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water. (Alcohol-based hand sanitizer hasn’t been shown to be effective against hepatitis A.)
I know some of you may be thinking that you have been vaccinated or that your kids have been vaccinated. I know: That is what I thought for myself and family, but I was wrong. It turns out that the hepatitis A vaccine was not routinely recommended in Idaho for children until 1999, several years after my kids were born so they never received the vaccine. However, I just learned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend any kiddo between 2-18 who hasn’t received the vaccine to go ahead and get it now.
As for me: I had always been told that if I wasn’t traveling outside the United States it wasn’t necessary for me to get a vaccine … so I didn’t. But that is going to change. Why don’t you call today to get your hepatitis A vaccine?
Kimberly Matulonis-Edgar has been with the Department of Health and Welfare as the HIV, STD and Hepatitis Prevention Programs coordinator for almost four years. She is very passionate about educating Idahoans on issues that affect their health, hoping to empower them to ask questions and make informed decisions when visiting with their health care provider.