October 28, 2016

Hepatitis A Outbreak in British Columbia

Government officials in British Columbia, Canada are investigating a hepatitis A outbreak in Dawson Creek. Five cases have been confirmed to date. Northern Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Sandra Allison said that an outbreak has been declared, even those the clusters are seemingly unrelated.

Hepatitis A Virus DrawingHepatitis A is a virus that is very contagious. It is spread through fecal-oral contact. Very tiny amounts of feces can contaminate food and drink. People shed the virus before symptoms appear and before they know they are sick, and can sicken others if they prepare or serve food or beverages. These outbreaks are often traced back to contaminated food or to an ill food worker.

There is no word on what has caused this particular outbreak. Hepatitis A outbreaks in the past have been linked to contaminated shellfish, produce, salads, and iced drinks.

The symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, jaundice, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes. Most people recover on their own without medical treatment, but they can be ill for weeks. Some people, especially those with underlying health conditions, such as problems with the liver, can become severely ill.  Older adults are more likely to suffering complications from this illness.

To prevent the spread of this illness, it’s very important that anyone who is handling food or drink for others wash their hands very well after using the bathroom and before handling food. If you are sick with symptoms of this illness, or have a diarrheal illness, you should stay home and avoid working with food.

Vaccinations for hepatitis A can prevent the illness, but they must be given within two weeks of exposure. Anyone who has been previously vaccinated or has had the disease is most likely not at risk for contracting it again. If you do begin experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor and follow her advice. We will report more on this outbreak when more information is available.

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