Our View: Hepatitis A outbreak hits close to home

For most of the past two years, the news has been filled with stories of a hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S. and subsequent warnings about how to prevent the spread.

This week, those warnings hit home.

On Tuesday, the Clark County Health Department issued a warning that hepatitis A had been confirmed in a food handler who worked at the Winchester Waffle House Nov. 20.

And Friday, another case was confirmed in a food handler at the Winchester Applebee’s between Nov. 14 and Nov. 25.

With these cases, many in the community may be fearful of the spread of the virus. It is important to note that is uncommon for restaurant customers to become infected with the virus because of an infected food handler.

But it is also important to be cautious and take steps to prevent spreading the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hepatitis A is a highly-contagious liver infection caused by a virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death in some people.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. It can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.

Contamination of food (this can include frozen and undercooked food) by hepatitis A can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling and even after cooking.

Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death; this is more common in people older than 50 and in people with other liver diseases.

One way to prevent the spread of the virus is through vaccination. Vaccines are available at most pharamacies, doctor’s offices and the health department.

The simplest way to protect yourself and others is to practice good hygiene, namely handwashing.

The CDC encourages handwashing frequently, but especially before, during and after preparing food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after using the toilet, after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilent, after touching animals, animal feed or animal waste and after touching garbage.

To be most effective, wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Lather your hands, including the backs of your hands, between fingers and under your nails. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well under clean running water. Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.

Washing your hands is easy, and it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community.