Hepatitis A Virus: Wreaking Havoc for Public Health

Author: Holly Montejano, MS, CIC, CPHQ

Categories: Clinical Pathogens/Alerts November 28, 2017

Hepatitis A virus is not for the faint of heart! This highly contagious and vaccine-preventable virus attacks the liver, with symptoms including fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), stomach pain, lack of appetite and nausea, and for otherwise healthy individuals, reaching the road to recovery could take several weeks (1). Young children often have no symptoms of the illness. However, for those with underlying liver issues this illness can lead to liver failure and even death (1).

Hepatitis A virus is often spread person-to-person via fecal-oral route or from consuming contaminated food or water (1). This virus is resilient and very difficult to kill, allowing it to live on surfaces for months outside the human body.

The National Impact of Hepatitis A this Year:

Hepatitis A has created a challenging year for public health across the nation. California, Utah and Michigan are currently experiencing outbreaks among their homeless population, those who use illicit drugs and their close contacts (2-4). Controlling an outbreak within these populations has been difficult due to close living quarters, an unclean environment, limited resources for cleaning, and low compliance with infection prevention interventions, creating the perfect storm for continued viral transmission. New York City has reported increased infections amongst the homosexual community, particularly men having sex with men (5). In addition, Hepatitis A infections can occur among people who have consumed food prepared by an infected food handler (1). The importance of appropriate handwashing and surface cleaning in both the food handling and healthcare environments can not be underestimated!

Post- Hurricane Concern for Hepatitis A: There is also concern for infection in areas severely damaged by this year’s devastating hurricane season due to flood waters mixing with raw sewage (6,7). If you have been impacted by this season’s hurricanes please be sure to avoid standing water and wash your hands with soap and clean water after contact with raw sewage. [To help those in need, PDI and Nice-Pak partnered with Good360to distribute over 3.5 MILLION wet wipes.]

Hepatitis A Virus Prevention:

While there is a vaccine for Hepatitis A, most people in the US only receive this if they are traveling abroad to an area with endemic infection or if they have been exposed to a known contact (1). If you think you may have been exposed to someone infected with this virus you should contact your physician or your local health department to receive the hepatitis A vaccine, and if it is decided that you are a high-risk, close contact you may also be given an injection of immune globulin.

To help control the spread of HAV through the environment, PDI can help with our EPA-registered Sani- Cloth® Bleach Germicidal Disposable Wipes—a great tool for surface disinfection. We also offer Sani- Hands® Instant Hand Sanitizing Wipes, an alcohol-based wipe for hand hygiene for use when soap and water are not available.

With appropriate hand hygiene and environmental cleaning, PDI can help us all remain healthy and hepatitis A-free this holiday season!

Holly Montejano, MS, CIC, CPHQ

Holly Montejano earned her Master of Science from Colorado State University in Epidemiology and Infectious Disease. While working in a post-graduate fellowship as a public health EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service) Officer, and then later as an epidemiologist and hospital infection prevention practitioner, she completed a Graduate Certification in Infection Control from University of South Florida and achieved the CIC and CPHQ credentialing. Her main professional interests are infection prevention, epidemiology, education and research. She is thrilled to be a new member of the PDI Clinical Affairs team!

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm#transmission

2. California Department of Public Health:https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/Hepatitis-A-Outbreak.aspx

3. Utah Department of Health: http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/hepatitisA/HAVoutbreak_2017

4. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71550_2955_2976_82305_82310-447907–,00.html

5. MMWR. September 22, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6637a7.htm

6. Stone, Judy. “Hidden Health Hazards After Hurricanes: What to Expect After Harvey”. August 26, 2017. com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2017/08/26/hidden-health-hazards-after-hurricanes-what-to-expect-after-harvey/#3df7fb6231a6

7. Sciubba, Jennifer and Jeremy Youde. “Puerto Rico’s Troubles are Far from Over. The Population’s Health is at Risk”. October 13, 2017. WashintonPost.com: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/10/13/puerto-ricos-troubles-are-far-from-over-the-populations-health-is-at-risk/?utm_term=.73f78662c04d