Beware of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A continues spreading throughout New Hampshire at an alarming pace. In fact, the 79 cases of this viral disease confirmed in the Granite State since November compare to a previous annual average of just seven.

This means that in the last five months alone, New Hampshire has seen about 11 times more cases of hepatitis A than the state has heretofore experienced for an entire average year.

“Hepatitis A is spread by unknowingly getting the virus in your mouth after touching or eating items that are contaminated with small amounts of stool from an infected person,” New Hampshire Bureau of Infectious Disease Control Chief Beth Daly said Tuesday. “Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person or caring for someone who is ill.”

Symptoms of an infection can include, but are not limited to, severe digestive problems, yellowing of the skin and eyes, joint pain, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, dark urine and clay-colored feces.

Also, at least one person who caught the disease in Merrimack County died.

“So far, in Nashua we have had two cases – thankfully, just two,” Nashua Chief Public Health Nurse Kim Bernard told our reporter.

Health officials emphasize anyone get contract hepatitis A, but those facing an increased risk include those who: have direct contact with infected people, use recreational drugs, are homeless or face an unstable housing situation, or are gay or bisexual men.

“Hepatitis A is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, which is vital to stopping this outbreak. People at high risk for infection should talk with their health care provider about getting vaccinated,” Daly said.

Bernard said since September, the Nashua Division of Public Health has vaccinated 302 people for hepatitis A. Vaccinations are available at 18 Mulberry St. from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, 3-6 p.m. Thursday and 8:30-10:30 a.m. Friday.

We encourage residents who fall into any of the above categories to consider a vaccination.

Beyond this, we ask members of the general public, particularly business owners whose employees handle food, to be vigilant.