Hepatitis spreading, but it’s preventable

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 4/21/19

While Cleveland resident Timothy Scroggins is on the mend after being hospitalized for a hepatitis A infection, he still is dealing with the infection’s after-effects and waiting for life to return to normal.

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Hepatitis spreading, but it’s preventable

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While Cleveland resident Timothy Scroggins is on the mend after being hospitalized for a hepatitis A infection, he still is dealing with the infection’s after-effects and waiting for life to return to normal.

“I still haven’t returned to work yet,” Scroggins said.

Scroggins said he began to feel ill in late March, thinking he had the flu.

But he didn’t improve, and his temperature skyrocketed.

“I couldn’t eat or drink water,” Scroggins said, adding that he grew weaker every day and lost several pounds.

When he entered the hospital, he had a temperature of  108 . The doctors told him his enzymes were high, and they diagnosed him with hepatitis A. He spent several days in the hospital. 

“I’ve have never been sick like that in my life,” Scroggins said.

While Scroggins isn’t sure where he contracted the virus, he told the Cleveland Daily Banner he suspects he became infected after eating in a Chattanooga-area, buffet-style restaurant.

The Banner contacted the Hamilton County Health Department regarding the restaurant. No cases of hepatitis have been traced to the eatery, which received an inspection score in the low 90s earlier this month. Although the report did state that employees were washing their hands, as well as using wearing gloves while handling food items, the inspector noted that hepatitis A was discussed with restaurant employees.

Scroggins wants people to be aware of the presence of the infection

“I just want people to be cautious,” Scroggins said.

According to the Hamilton County Health Department, “hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection.”

Most people become sick about a month after being infected, with the illness resulting in mild to serious cases, some of which can lead to death. 

There have been several restaurants in the region where employees have tested positive for hepatitis, including Western Sizzlin in Ooltewah, McDonald’s in Chickamauga, Ga., Krystal in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., and Crescent City Tavern in Dalton, Ga.

In November, the Krystal restaurant in Fort Oglethorpe received a 71 health inspection score. In one of several violations listed in the report, an inspector noted the lack of a soap dispenser at a hand washing sink.

Western Sizzlin shuttered its Ooltewah location earlier this month after news of the infected employee caused business to decline.

A hepatitis outbreak is also taking place in northeast Alabama, with 22 cases in Jackson County, 12 in DeKalb County and one case in Marshall County, according to a March 19 Associated Press report. Health Department officials in those counties are advising residents to get vaccinations.

Outbreaks have also been reported recently in New Hampshire, Florida, Arkansas and Idaho

In Tennessee, there have been 1,191 hepatitis cases reported, resulting in seven deaths. From December 2017 to April 12 this year, 137 cases have been reported.

Amanda Goodhard, Assessment and Planning coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Health's Southeast Region, told the Cleveland Daily Banner that while numbers of cases in Bradley County are not disclosed due to the possibility of revealing the identity of someone infected with hepatitis A, there have been 36 cases reported for the state department of health’s region.

The region includes Bledsoe, Bradley, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, McMinn, Polk, Sequatchie, Meigs and Rhea counties.

The cases were reported between Dec. 1, 2017, to April 12 of this year.

According to the Hamilton County Department of Health’s website, 148 hepatitis cases were reported between May 2018 to April of this year.

Goodhard said the outbreak has spread from Kentucky into Tennessee.

“It’s been going on for several months,” Goodhard said. “Many states are dealing with it now.”

She said hepatitis A is a preventable disease that can be limited from spreading by practicing good hygiene, such as hand washing. Also, avoiding recreational drug use, as well as using appropriate protection during sex is advised.

Fortunately, a vaccine is available to prevent infection; the Health Department reports the vaccine is very effective.

“The first dose of the two-dose series will protect most people for several years, according to the Health Department. “The two-dose series is all that is needed for a lifetime; it does not require booster doses.”

Hepatitis A vaccine is routinely recommended for certain groups even in the absence of an outbreak including the following:

• All children at age 1 year

• Travelers to countries that have high rates of hepatitis A

• Family members and caregivers of recent adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common

• Men who have sexual contact with other men

• People who use recreational drugs, whether injected or not

• People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C

• People who are treated with clotting-factor concentrates

• People who work with hepatitis A infected animals or in a hepatitis A research laboratory

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