RICHMOND – Although no reports of Hepatitis A have been reported in Ray County, residents are encouraged to get vaccinated against the disease.

“If a person is in contact with a person with Hepatitis A, or is in the risk categories, we recommend they come in and get vaccinated,” Shelby Spor, Ray County Community Health Department director said Thursday.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reports from Sept. 15, 2017, to Aug. 20, 2019, there have been 414 Hepatitis A outbreak-associated cases in 35 Missouri counties.

Of the cases reported, there have been 233 Hepatitis A outbreak-associated hospitalizations and two Hepatitis A outbreak-associated deaths. The disease appears to be spreading through direct person-to-person contact, mostly among people who use illicit injection or non-injection drugs and their close contacts.

“Most of the cases are in southeast Missouri,” Spor said. “The concern is if the disease makes it to a heavily-populated area, it could spread.”

The vaccine is available at the community health department for $20.

Spor said the Hepatitis A shot is a series of two shots, with no annual boosters. A person can also get the Hepatitis A and B shot together for $40 and it is a series of three shots with no annual booster.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are categories of the population more at risk than others, including those who: use recreational drugs; are experiencing homelessness; are men who have sex with men; are in treatment or counseling for substance abuse; are receiving drug substitution treatment and/or participate in drug court; or work in or have been detained in jail or a detention center.

“Recently, I was able to accompany members of our Section for Disease Prevention to the National Viral Hepatitis Planning Meeting in Atlanta to glean information from other states’ communicable disease programs,” Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said. “One notable state we heard from was Tennessee – a state comparable in size to Missouri – which is experiencing an even more severe outbreak. We are grateful to have their insight and perspective on this issue. Their experience has allowed us to be more prepared for this potential situation and work to prevent this type of contagious outbreak to spread further.”

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown-colored urine and light-colored stools. Yellowing of the skin or eyes might also occur. People can become ill up to 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of feces from an infected person, a press release stated.

“The best way to avoid spreading the disease is by handwashing,” Spor said. “I would say, if a person is in one of the at-risk categories, come in a get the vaccine.”

The clinic is open at 820 E. Lexington St. on Monday and Tuesday for walk-in vaccinations. People can call in Wednesday through Friday to make sure a nurse is available to give the shot.

For information about Hepatitis A, Spor said people can visit www.health.mo.gov or call the clinic at 816-776-5413.

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