Louisville doctor answers 6 burning questions about the hepatitis A outbreak

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With no end in sight for an outbreak of hepatitis A in Louisville and surrounding areas, doctors are trying to answer as many questions as they can about the virus.

Dr. Paul Schultz is an infectious diseases specialist and system epidemiologist for Norton Healthcare and deals with hepatitis patients regularly. WDRB conducted a Q&A with Schultz to answer some frequently asked questions about the disease and how it manifests itself:

What is the long term impact of hepatitis A on the liver?

Schultz: Essentially it only causes acute, self-limited hepatitis. It means it resolves on its own, there isn't really any treatment. It's your immune system against the virus. Most people don't have significant liver damage from hepatitis A.

How long is someone with hepatitis A contagious?

Schultz: "Like a lot of infectious diseases, you can be contagious before you're ill and even after you're feeling better."

Can hepatitis A live on surfaces we touch?

Schultz: "It can but for a limited period of time. It’s not something we are usually concerned about is hepatitis A staying on a surface for a long period of time."

The vaccine is two shots, how long does it take to get immunity?

Schultz: "So it's two shots recommended, six months apart. Like any immunization, we typically want to give someone two to four weeks before we say someone is immune."

How easily can it spread through your own house?

Schultz: "Transmission is not easy in the sense. Usually, even casual contact is not going to be high risk. The bottom line is the more contact you have with an infected person, the more likely you are to get infected."

Would you, as a doctor, go out to eat right now?

Schultz: "Yes, you have to trust the health department and the USDA and these regulations that are put on food preparation. I can tell you our family hasn't changed our behavior around that very much."

The state health department is recommending any of the following people are at a high risk for contracting hepatitis A:

those who travel to countries where hepatitis A is common

  • men who have sex with other men
  • those who use illegal drugs
  • those who are homeless
  • those who have chronic liver disease such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • those who are being treated with clotting-factor concentrates
  • those who work with hepatitis A-infected animals, people, or laboratory work
  • those who expect to have close personal contact with an international adoptee from a country where hepatitis A is common

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sudden nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially on the upper right side beneath your lower ribs (by your liver)
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Intense itching

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