Hepatitis A clinic targets food service workers

Telegraph photo by ADAM URQUHART Nashua Health Promotion Specialist Courtney Ellison and Chief Public Health Nurse Kim Bernard with the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services review documents relative to the ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in New Hampshire.

NASHUA – As public health officials across the country work to spread awareness and combat the current hepatitis A outbreak, officials with the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services are targeting a specific population this week: food service workers.

The division is hosting a clinic to get people vaccinated from 2-5 p.m. Thursday at the former Alec’s Shoe, 201 Main St.. This is specifically geared toward those working in the food service industry.

Division Health Promotion Specialist Courtney Ellison hopes employers will encourage members of their staffs to participate.

“We want employers to encourage their staff to come and get it, in the sense that if they’re working, let them take a quick break,” Ellison said.

This is just one of the many proactive steps division officials have taken since this outbreak started in the late summer to early fall. Since that time, public health workers in the city have been actively performing outreach efforts, including clinics and stopping by various area agencies.

Chief Public Health Nurse Kim Bernard said they have also been working with people around the Nashua Public Library, Mine Falls Park and the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail to provide education and advocate for folks to get vaccinated.

“There’s two vaccines that are administered for hepatitis A, but if you receive just one of those, you have over 90 percent efficacy for about 10 years is what the literature shows,” Bernard said.

She said the first dose people receive is about 95 percent effective, while the second dose is 100 percent effective. She said it is important for people at least get that first vaccination, and that people who come to the division’s event on Thursday can come back to the division building located at 18 Mulberry St. within six months to get their second vaccine. A wallet card with information regarding the date of the next vaccination will be distributed.

Walk-In Clinic hours at the division are: 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, 3-6 p.m. Thursday and 8:30-10:30 a.m. Friday.

The vaccines are offered for free or at a reduced rate. Thursday’s vaccination event is free and no appointment is needed.

In any event, hepatitis A has been on the rise in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as well as other states across the country. Since November, there have been 79 people in New Hampshire that have been diagnosed with it. This compares to an average of six or seven people annually in recent years. Bernard said the division has participated with Massachusetts, West Virginia and Maryland through phone calls with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to coordinate efforts toward getting the situation under control.

Bernard said hepatitis A attacks the liver, and leaves people feeling as though they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. She said symptoms include yellowing of eyes, nausea, vomiting, dark coloration of urine and stool, abdominal and joint pain and fever. Additionally, people may experience severe fatigue and loss of appetite.

“Sometimes, people might think that’s the flu, but it could be hep A, and it’s something that is spread from what we call, ‘fecal-oral transmission,'” Bernard said. “If someone uses the bathroom and doesn’t wash their hands properly, and then touches something that is going in the mouth of themselves or someone else, it can be contaminated with the virus.”

She said officials want to get the word out to this specific population that they should really be vaccinating to not only protect themselves, but the public who goes out to eat at these restaurants.

“Say a food service worker did have hepatitis A. We would want them to stay out of work until their symptoms resolve,” Bernard said.

If someone has hepatitis A, she said symptoms would be similar to when someone has the flu. The person should consume lots of fluids, get lots of rest and be sure to wash their hands well. Symptoms can also last for several months, and the more severe the case, the longer it will last.

There has already been one fatal case in New Hampshire, and as of last week, there have been 79 total infections identified according to the CDC. The majority of the cases are popping up in Hillsborough County, with 36 as of last week. On Monday, the city’s division confirmed that the number has not increased from the two cases reported in Nashua last week.

Bernard said hepatitis A is contagious two weeks prior to the jaundice setting in, to one week afterward. She said yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes happens once an individual is experiencing liver damage.

Those with questions should contact the division at 603-589-4500.