Two recent Clark County deaths are related to hepatitis A, the Clark County Combined Health District confirmed Thursday.
Officials at the health district said the two individuals died a few weeks ago, but it took time to link their deaths back to the disease. One of the deaths is related to the current statewide hepatitis A outbreak.
Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said the people were adults, but couldn’t release any additional details in order to protect the privacy of the families.
“The heartbreaking loss of these lives illustrates the seriousness of this outbreak, and we urge Clark County residents to practice good hand washing and to get vaccinated,” Patterson said. “We are working with our local and state partners to slow the spread of hepatitis A, but this disease is highly contagious and can spread rapidly, so prevention is critical.”
Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is spread when hands, food or objects contaminated with stool are put in the mouth. It can be spread by close contact with a person who is sick with hepatitis A, eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis A or sex with a person with hepatitis A.
As of Thursday afternoon, the health district reported there were seven deaths in Ohio related to the current outbreak — two in Butler County, two in Montgomery County, one in Clark County, one in Scioto County, and one case in a county that was unknown to the health district, but would be identified next week during a state conference call.
The Ohio Department of Health says they’re linking cases with the current outbreak if a specimen from the person matches the current strain of hepatitis A and the onset of the disease dates back to Jan. 1, 2018.
There have been 1,092 Ohio hospitalizations and 1,746 confirmed cases as of Feb. 19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
There were 43 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Clark County on Thursday. Patterson said since Feb. 14, there hadn’t been any additional cases, but he doesn’t want the lull to mean that people let their guards down.
“This outbreak is not over yet,” he said.
HEPATITIS A: Disease spreading like wildfire locally
Patterson said the health district is pushing to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The hepatitis A vaccine isn’t required before a child enters school, so not a lot of people have had the vaccine, Patterson said.
The health district has been focusing outreach efforts on those most at-risk of contracting the disease — drug users, men who have sex with men, people experiencing homelessness, people who have been recently incarcerated and travelers to locations where hepatitis A is common.
But Patterson said what’s concerning is that the disease has spread to people outside of those groups. He couldn’t comment on whether the two people who died were considered to be in those at-risk groups.
“This has devastated their lives and so we want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” he said.
The hepatitis A vaccine is covered through most insurance plans. Anyone interested in getting the two-dose series should contact their doctor, pharmacy or the health district to see what options are available.