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Health Officials Push Vaccination, Handwashing As Hepatitis A Cases Continue

Tana Weingartner
Public Health Nurse Ruby Bond demonstrates how easy it is to get the hepatitis A vaccine.

The increase in hepatitis A cases around Ohio is pushing health officials in Cincinnati to encourage vaccinations and good handwashing. The move by the Cincinnati Health Department comes a day after announcing U.S. Chili patrons may have been exposed to the virus.

People who ate at the Camp Washington restaurant between March 28 and April 6 should monitor themselves for symptoms, which include fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, among others (see below). There is still a small vaccination window open for people who ate there April 4-6.

"There have been no cases of hepatitis A linked to the current outbreak in Ohio that have been due to foodborne transmission from a restaurant," says the health department's supervising epidemiologist Sharon Hutchins, reiterating, "There have been zero cases."

She points out the risk of contracting the virus from eating in a restaurant is extremely low. The risk is higher among people experiencing homelessness, drug users, people in jail or recently incarcerated, and those who've traveled to countries where hepatitis A is common.

Men who have sex with men can also be at risk, though Hutchins points out "we have not found that particular group to be at increased risk here in Cincinnati, however it is one of those that have been found in Ohio."

Director of Environmental Health Antonio Young points out the prevalence of hepatitis A in restaurants is minimal.

"Local health departments have it covered," he says, pointing out routine inspections are happening frequently. "And during those routine inspections we're educating them on sanitation practices, and most importantly the handwashing factor."

I May Have Been Infected, What Should I Do?

According to the health department, U.S. Chili reports approximately 60-70 people ate at the restaurant per day during the time period in question, excluding March 31, when the restaurant was closed.

If you ate at U.S. Chili from March 28 - April 3, monitor yourself for symptoms (see below). If you become ill, seek medical attention and tell your provider you may have been exposed and should be tested for hepatitis A. Also, observe strict handwashing hygiene.

If you ate there on April 4, you can still get vaccinated on Thursday, April 18. The health department recommends visiting your primary care doctor, urgent care or walk-in health clinic.

Those who ate at U.S. Chili on April 5 and April 6 can be vaccinated no later than April 19 and April 20, respectively.

The Cincinnati Health Department is awaiting a shipment of the vaccine, so vaccinations there are limited only to people who may have been infected who do not have access elsewhere. Hamilton County Public Health is also offering the shot, and the city of Springdale is providing supplies to Cincinnati as needed.

About Hepatitis A

Symptoms include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, gray-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice. Symptoms usually occur two to six weeks after infection and generally last less than two months, though they can linger for as long as six months.

The highly contagious virus affects the liver and is a short-term disease. It is generally spread through person-to-person transmission - in other words, close, personal contact - or when someone ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated with the stool of someone who is infected.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated and practice good handwashing. The vaccine is given in two shots spaced six months apart.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.