Hepatitis A: Another Great Reason to Wash Your Hands

As kids, we’re all taught the importance of washing our hands. Elementary school teachers even teach us songs to sing while we scrub so that we can make sure we’ve been soaped up long enough before we rinse. If you grow up and go into the healthcare field, you’re taught how to REALLY wash your hands, finger by finger, including how to properly scrub under your fingernails. We all know the importance of killing the germs that crawl all over our hands, but the facts are showing that a good bit of us opt out of this potentially life saving habit. What is the result of skipping steps or not washing our hands at all? There are many, including e. Coli, salmonella, the common cold, and getting dirt on your potato chips. Another more serious result that is currently rearing it’s ugly head is Hepatitis A. 

Hep A is a very contagious liver infection that is spread via an infected person’s fecal matter. Specifically, it’s commonly transmitted by eating or drinking after someone who didn’t wash their hands in the bathroom has handled your food or dishes, eating raw fish that comes from polluted water, or drinking contaminated water. It can also be sexually transmitted. Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that inflames the liver, and the inflammation causes the liver to malfunction. This malfunctioning of the liver can cause fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, low fevers, intense itching, joint or muscle pain, diarrhea or vomiting, jaundice, and dark urine. People who are particularly at risk for Hep A are those who travel to areas where it is common. According to the CDC, these areas are “all parts of the world EXCEPT Canada, western Europe and Scandinavia, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.”

Some people may experience liver failure as a result of the virus, but most people who become infected can be treated & generally make a full recovery. That’s great news! But there’s even better news: Hepatitis A can be prevented! Making sure to practice good hand hygiene is very important for Hep A prevention. You should also avoid raw or undercooked meats and fish, unwashed fruits & vegetables, unpasteurized dairy, and “bushmeat” like monkeys, bats, and other wild game, and avoid contact with people you know are infected. Another good way to prevent Hep A is to get the vaccine. That’s right! There’s a vaccine that can protect you, even if ALL those other steps fail. It’s given in 2 doses about 6 months apart and is nearly 100% effective!

Recently, the state of Florida has experienced a Hepatitis A outbreak. Between 1/1/18-5/4/19 there were 1585 cases reported, which is doubled from the previous year’s numbers, which had already doubled from prior numbers. For 2019, we have already surpassed the number of reported cases in 2018, and it’s only May! Most counties with serious outbreaks are in South Florida, but the Panhandle is certainly not immune. Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties are all high alert counties for the virus, and Escambia County is not far behind. From 1/1/18-5/4/19, Santa Rosa County reported 10 new cases, Okaloosa reported 11, Walton reported 4, and Escambia reported 1. These numbers seem small compared to the numbers of some counties in South Florida (some being in the hundreds), but Hep A is HIGHLY contagious and can spread very quickly. The state board of health is actively working to vaccinate those who need vaccinations to try to head off the outbreak before it gets any worse.

If you think you might be at risk, or if you just want to take steps to protect yourself, ProHealth can help! We can administer the Hepatitis A vaccinations at any of our locations across the Panhandle. Just come on in or give us a call, and we’ll be glad to set you up to be protected!

Hepatitis A vaccines are available at all ProHealth locations for $89.