Hepatitis A infections are on the rise nationwide and in the state of North Carolina, particularly among high risk groups. In an effort to prevent Hepatitis A outbreaks in our state, the NC Division of Public Health has issued a "liberal use" policy that allows local health departments in NC to administer state supplied Hepatitis A vaccine among high-risk individuals, regardless of insurance status. A targeted vaccination approach to the groups at highest risk is the best way to control the spread of disease.
The identified risk groups for this expansion include the following:
• Persons who use injection and/or non-injection drugs;
• Persons who are homeless;
• Men who have sex with men;
• Persons with chronic liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B or C;
• Persons who are currently incarcerated in a county-owned facility/jail.
For adults who fall into one of these identified high risk population groups, Hepatitis A vaccine is available at the Cleveland County Public Health Center for free. For those who do not fall into one of these groups, the Cleveland County Public Center may still provide the vaccine by billing insurance or Medicaid, or the cost is $70 for self-pay. Vaccines are available at the Cleveland County Public Health Center on Monday - Friday from 8:00 am - 5:00 pm. No appointment is necessary.
In an effort to expand reach to identified high risk groups who may have barriers to accessing care, the NC Division of Public Health is encouraging local health departments to provide offsite outreach. As a result, the Cleveland County Public Health Center is partnering with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office to administer free Hepatitis A vaccines to justice-involved persons in the county's detention center. They are also planning to partner with local homeless shelters to administer the vaccine.
Kim Crane, Communicable Disease and Prevention Supervisor for the Cleveland County Public Health Center, states, "We did not have any Hepatitis A cases in Cleveland County in 2017 and have only had one case so far in 2018. While we have not had any recent outbreaks in our county, there was a recent outbreak in Mecklenburg County associated with a food worker. We want to help ensure we are doing what we can to prevent something similar from happening here."
As stated by the CDC, Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water. Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within 2 months of infection.
For information about the Hepatitis A vaccine, you may call the Cleveland County Public Health Center at 980-484-5100 or visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.
Submitted by DeShay Oliver