Ohio has announced a statewide Hepatitis A outbreak. Here’s what’s happening in Clark County.

Clark County Combined Health District RN Patricia Free shows one of the Hepatitis A vaccines that are available. Clark County has seen a 70 percent increase this year in Hepatitis A. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
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Clark County Combined Health District RN Patricia Free shows one of the Hepatitis A vaccines that are available. Clark County has seen a 70 percent increase this year in Hepatitis A. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

Clark County mirrors Ohio in experiencing a growth of Hepatitis A cases this year, which has caused local organizations to take action to inform or vaccinate residents against the infection.

Last week, the Ohio Department of Health announced a statewide outbreak of the illness. The number of cases in Ohio has increased from 41 last year to 79 in the first half of 2018. Hepatitis A is a very contagious liver disease caused by contact with food, drinks or other objects that have been contaminated with even a small amount of feces.

Clark County has seen three confirmed cases this year after experiencing none in 2017.

The Clark County Combined Health District is taking steps to combat the outbreak by offering Hep A vaccines to the uninsured at the Springfield Soup Kitchen next month.

Vaccination is the best method of prevention, combined with regular hand washing, officials said.

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“We’re especially focused on those in special, high-risk populations,” said Anna Jean Petroff, an epidemiologist at the health district.

Those populations include, but aren’t limited to, the homeless, the incarcerated, illicit-drug users and travellers to areas with known outbreaks. All of the confirmed cases in Clark County have come from these groups.

Petroff said this particular strain of Hep A has resulted in a near-70 percent hospitalization rate for patients.

“You can get your Hepatitis A vaccine as early as 1 year old,” Petroff said. “But it’s not required to go to school right now, so lots of people may not have the Hepatitis A vaccine.”

The soup kitchen serves an average of 200 to 250 people each night they provide a meal. Fred Stegner, president of the soup kitchen, said he encourages all of his volunteers and guests to wash their hands regularly.

“There are people who come into the soup kitchen who haven’t washed or haven’t bathed in months,” Stegner said. “They just don’t realize it because they’re on the streets and they’re not used to it. We try to take care of as many as we can.”

MORE COVERAGE: Ohio among states battling sudden rise in Hepatitis A cases

The symptoms of Hepatitis A can range from mild to severe and can last up to several months if left untreated. Some of the warning signs are fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, yellowing of the skin or eyes and clay-colored stool.

Madison Avenue Pharmacy in Springfield will also be fighting the outbreak along with the health district, but its exact role hasn’t been determined.

“There’s a number of times when opportunities like this come up and we jump on them,” said Eric Juergens, owner of the pharmacy. “It’s not always about making money. It’s about the good you can do for the community.”

The health district will be offering vaccines at the soup kitchen on July 16, after which more vaccination clinics will be determined.

There haven’t been any confirmed cases of Hep A in Champaign County this year, according to Gabe Jones, health commissioner of Champaign Health District.

If you would like to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A, the health district recommends checking with your health care provider or pharmacy for available options. The vaccine is a two-dose series, spaced six months apart.