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The South Carolina Department of Health has notified me that there is a Hepatitis A outbreak.

Hepatitis A is a virus that is very stable. It can last for months just waiting for someone to pick it up. People are infected through direct contact with the Virus.  The most common way is through contamination with fecal material. This can occur from someone using the bathroom and not washing their hands to farmers whom may have the virus and they move their bowels in a field, near a stream, or near some other food / water source. It can be found on any uncooked item that you eat; but is most often associated with leafy vegetables and fruit.

You can also get the virus from close personal contact with someone who has an active infection or is shedding the virus. Just living with someone who has the disease greatly increases the risk of getting the disease.

The virus is destroyed by cooking. The CDC reports that cooking to a temperature of 185 degrees for  longer than one minute will destroy the virus.

The symptoms are sneaky, and change based on age. Jaundice, or turning yellow, happens in 70% of adults. Yet in children, this occurs much less; with numbers as low as 30%. We also look for pale (called clay-colored) stools, dark urine (called cola-colored), and abdominal pain. There is a number of other symptoms that are very ubiquitous to other diseases: Fever, Fatigue, Loss of Appetite, Nausea with or without vomiting, and occasionally joint pains.

When infected, it takes 15 to 50 days to become sick. Most occur around the 4-week period. This disease most of the time lasts about two months more. This is not one of the hepatitis’s that become a chronic condition.

You can prevent getting the disease be being vaccinated before exposure, or given special antibodies (Immunoglobulins) right when you are exposed. Both of these are injections. Many people should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. The vaccination series is normally two injections about 6 months to one year apart.

How do you prevent getting the disease besides vaccination? Know your food sources, your restaurants, and most importantly – wash your hands. I educate my patients before your hand touches food or comes near your mouth for eating or drinking, they need to be washed. Hand sterilizer is okay, but the overuse of this product has lead to other problems – and that is for another time.

Ask your doctor about this. You can also go to the local health department for more information and vaccinations.