An outbreak of hepatitis A is hitting Missouri, with 424 reported cases since Sept. 2017. More than half of reported cases have required hospitalization. There have been two deaths in the state directly attributed to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding the Vaccines for Children program, providing vaccines to qualifying children ages 18 and younger. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is recommending all children within that age group be vaccinated. The vaccine is being offered for free to children that are Medicaid eligible, uninsured or Native American . It's also being offered to children with insurance that does not cover the hepatitis A vaccine.
According to Health and Senior Services, the outbreak has been concentrated in the southeastern portion of the state, with 214 of the cases located in just five counties. The only other county with more than 10 reported cases is Franklin County with 71 cases. Boone County hasn't had any cases, and there have only been a total of three in the eight surrounding counties.
Several other states, mostly concentrated east of the Mississippi River, are seeing outbreaks. Since March 2017, there have been nearly 25,000 cases and 240 deaths nationwide, per the CDC.
According to the CDC, hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. There are three common varieties in the United States: A, B and C. Symptoms include low fever, stomach pain, fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infectious bodily fluids. The diseases can become lifelong conditions, especially hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is spread through the consumption of infected fecal material, typically in the form of contaminated food and water. Unlike its counterparts, hepatitis A does not have the potential to become a long-term illness. Symptoms typically last less than two months. The incubation period before symptoms appear is lengthy for all varieties of the disease. It is shorter in hepatitis A, lasting a few weeks to a month. The infection can still be transferred before symptoms appear.
Hepatitis A is far more common in underdeveloped countries. It can typically be prevented through proper hygiene and hand-washing, but the CDC recommends vaccination when outbreaks occur. Children are typically vaccinated when they are between 12 and 23 months old. The two doses of the vaccine are administered six months apart.
Health and Senior Services does not currently require students to obtain the vaccine to attend school, but a representative for the department said in email the idea “deserves thought and consideration by policy makers.” The department does require hepatitis B vaccinations for public school students.
Those who qualify for the Vaccines for Children program can check to see if their doctor is a provider within the program, go to a local health department or visit a rural health center. There is a small fee for the office visit and immunization. The program recommends talking to your provider if you cannot pay it.