South Carolina Offers Free Hepatitis A Vaccines To Qualifying Residents
The ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in various ‘Heartland’ states has reached the area between South Carolina's scenic mountains and beautiful beaches.
Between November 2018, and May 10, 2019, there have been 86 reported cases of hepatitis A in South Carolina, leading to 59 hospitalizations and 1 death, reported the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) on May 13, 2019.
In reaction to these cases being centralized in Aiken County, DHEC declared a ‘localized hepatitis A outbreak’ in February 2019.
Aiken County is located east of Augusta, Georgia and is home to approximately 160,000 residents.
“Given the steady increase in cases, we determined that South Carolina is experiencing an outbreak,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist, and director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control.
“As a result, DHEC is intensifying efforts to control the spread of hepatitis A virus (HAV) to avoid a severe outbreak that could threaten the general population.”
This statewide outbreak coincides with the national hepatitis A outbreak that began in 2016.
As of April 30, 2019, 4 states have reported the most HAV cases and related deaths during the 2017-2019 outbreak in the USA:
- Kentucky: 4,543 cases, and 53 deaths
- West Virginia: 2,503 cases, and 21 deaths
- Ohio: 2,178 cases, and 7 deaths
- Indiana: 1,294 cases, and 4 deaths
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus that is typically transmitted through person-to-person contact with someone who has the infection or through eating or drinking food or water contaminated by an infected person.
Most people who contract hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage.
People usually become sick within two to six weeks after being exposed, and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Certain adults who may be at higher risk for hepatitis A include:
- People who use injection or non-injection drugs
- People who are homeless
- People who are or recently were incarcerated
- Men who have sex with men
- People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C
- People who are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common
- People with chronic liver disease like cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C as they have an increased risk of complications if infected with hepatitis A
“We have established a hepatitis A task force that is coordinating efforts to control the spread of the virus by increasing vaccination rates among high-risk groups, establishing partnerships critical to reaching those groups, and conducting outreach and education efforts,” Dr. Bell said, in a press release.
Additionally, DHEC is currently offering no-cost hepatitis A vaccines to individuals who are drug users, homeless, men who have sex with men or those who have a history of incarceration.
Additionally, immune globulin can provide short-term protection against hepatitis A, both pre- and post-exposure.
South Carolina residents can schedule an appointment for an HAV vaccination at their local health department by calling 855-472-3432 or visit Health: Public Health Clinics.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this digital assessment, which can help determine if you should be vaccinated and/or tested for viral hepatitis.
And, for those who do not qualify for a free HAV vaccination, discounts may be found at Vaccine Discounts.
For more information on hepatitis A, visit the DHEC website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.