Knox County sees increase in hepatitis A cases

Local News

The Knox County Health Department says it has seen a rise in hepatitis A cases amid a statewide outbreak.

A total of 10 cases were reported between July 2018 and February 2019, but just since March 1, an additional nine cases have been reported, which is an increase of 90 percent in less than a month.

“The current outbreak continues to predominately affect middle Tennessee and many of the East Tennessee communities surrounding Knox County,” said KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan. “While Knox County has not experienced the high number of cases other areas have, it’s important that we, as a community, do everything we can to prevent our recent uptick from ballooning.”

What is Hepatitis A?  What are the symptoms?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection and health care providers say it spreads differently.

“A lot of people think of hepatitis B and C, which is a blood-borne pathogen that you get from maybe sharing needles or having sex with someone. Hepatitis A is fecal-oral, so it’s found in the feces and basically what happens is if you have it and you go to the bathroom and you don’t wash your hands well or you’re not able to wash your hands, then you touch things that go into your mouth, that’s how you end up getting this disease,” said Charity Menefee, Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease with the Knox County Health Department.

     Previous Story | Hepatitis A outbreak claims a life in Tennessee

Menefee says this virus causes fatigue, stomach pain, nausea vomiting and people can experience jaundice. 

“With this vaccine, it’s a two-dose vaccine. So you get the first dose and then after six months you get the second dose. We are really prioritizing for those high risk groups that first dose and that’s what we can give for free right now.”

Hepatitis A is preventable by vaccine and the vaccine is available at all three KCHD locations at no cost for high-risk groups. Appointments can be made by calling (865) 215-5070.

How the outbreak affects Knox County 

The outbreak is linked to a large, multi-state outbreak that started in 2017.

The outbreak in Knox County is mainly affecting those who use injection and non-injection drugs like marijuana, heroin and meth, those experiencing homelessness, and the close contacts of both groups.

Doctors at UT Medical Center say hepatitis A is a virus that makes you immune the rest of your life – after recovery.

“With hepatitis A, fortunately the liver damage in most people is temporary and your liver has a remarkable ability to fully recover from damage. It’s an organ that can really heal itself very well,” said Dr. Mark Rasnake.

In adults, hepatitis A usually resolves within two months of infection, but it can be serious and deadly for those in high-risk groups.

Dr. Rasnake says handwashing and getting this vaccine are the best ways to prevent this virus. 

“At this point, if you don’t fall into one of those high-risk groups, there’s probably not a great risk to you as an individual.”

Sixty-two percent of the cases in Tennessee’s current outbreak have been hospitalized and six patients died. For more information on hepatitis A, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website by clicking here.

Children must get vaccinated before school enrollment

When it comes to kids, we checked with Tennessee’s Department of Health and learned the state requires kids enrolling in child care facilities, 18-months or older, to receive one dose of the hepatitis A vaccine.

The state notes children enrolling in kindergarten are required two doses, in total, of the hepatitis A vaccine spaced at least six to 18-months apart.

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