Hepatitis A outbreak in Mecklenburg County prompts free vaccination program

Hepatitis A outbreak in Mecklenburg County prompts free vaccination program

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A recent outbreak in Hepatitis A cases in Mecklenburg County has prompted the county to launch a free vaccination program to those most at risk for contracting the disease.

Five Hepatitis A cases have been confirmed in Mecklenburg County so far this year, according to the Mecklenburg County Public Information Department. An additional case has been suspected.

The CDC determined that Mecklenburg County is experiencing an outbreak of Hepatitis A. Health officials say the cases were reported by providers in the community.

The five cases have happened since April 20, which health officials say is higher than the county's average annual number.

Those at highest risk for contracting Hepatitis A are:

  • Those who are household members, caregivers, or have sexual contact with someone who is infected with hepatitis A
  • Men who have sexual encounters with other men
  • Those who use recreational drugs, whether injected or not
  • Recent travel from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Homeless individuals who do not have easy access to handwashing facilities

The county health department will offer free vaccines to residents with one of the above risks, health officials say.

Residents can get the vaccine Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Northwest Health Department located at 2845 Beatties Ford Road or at the Southeast Health Department located at 249 Billingsley Road.

Insured residents may get the vaccine at their doctor's office.

Hepatitis A symptoms include nausea, fever, yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine, grey feces, joint pain, feeling tired, loss of appetite and stomach pain, health officials say.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects the liver. "It can be very severe," health officials said during a press conference Wednesday.

The disease is often spread through the fecal and oral route. The illness can last for weeks to months.

Health officials recommend practicing safe handwashing procedures, including washing hands under warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom or changing diapers before preparing food.

Hepatitis A cases have been on the rise nationally since 2012, with 1,200 cases reported in the U.S. between July 2016 and November. Those cases include 826 hospitalizations and 37 deaths, according to the Mecklenburg County Public Information Department.

The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is with the vaccine, county health officials say.

The county had four cases total in 2017.

Copyright 2018 WBTV. All rights reserved.