Hepatitis A outbreak crosses into Virginia

VA Department of Health: 132% increase in cases this year

ROANOKE, Va. – Hepatitis A has become a problem in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health says 45 people in Virginia have had cases of hepatitis A since the start of 2019, which is a 132% increase from the same time last year.

"It's not nearly as serious or as significant as outbreaks we've seen in other states across the country, but it has the potential to become serious," said Marshall Vogt with the Virginia Department of Health.

The increase comes after hep A outbreaks in neighboring states West Virginia and Tennessee. The rise in hep A cases has also caught the attention of the Carilion Clinic.

"We want to stay ahead of an outbreak rather than trying to catch up," said Dr. Thomas Kerkering, Carilion Clinic chief of infectious diseases.

Hepatitis A infects the liver for a month or two and is less severe than hepatitis B or C. It mainly spreads through the mouth, which means someone can catch the disease from uncooked food or not washing your hands after touching an infected surface.

"If proper cleanliness, cooking, et cetera are not used, then it could start to spread its way to other people that are not immune," Kerkering said.

The Virginia Department of Health and Carilion Clinic both strongly recommend getting the hepatitis A vaccine to stop the spread of the disease. The vaccine has been given often to kids born after 2000, and Carilion has vaccinated staff members who work in clinics near the West Virginia line.

"You get your first dose and two weeks later you are protected from hepatitis A," Kerkering said. "It's 94% effective, which is excellent, and if you get that second dose, it's good for life."

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