Alabama Department of Public Health has hepatitis A vaccine available only for high risk people near outbreaks

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WRBL) – The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has a limited supply of hepatitis A vaccine, and it’s only available for people at high risk and who reside in counties where outbreaks are being experienced.  

Thirty cases of HAV were reported in July 2019, the highest number of monthly cases since the outbreak began in September, 2018. To prevent the spread of HAV, individuals with risk factors should receive the HAV vaccine.

Restaurant owners and managers have been encouraged to recommend the hepatitis A vaccine for food service workers because there have been multiple confirmed cases of the illness in food workers. Employees of these establishments should seek immunization from a private healthcare provider or pharmacy. The Jefferson County Department of Health offers hepatitis A vaccine at no charge to Jefferson County residents only.

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus found in the stool of people who are infected. While there are at least 25 counties in Alabama with hepatitis A outbreak-related confirmed cases, the outbreak counties as of August 21 include Autauga, Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, Montgomery and Russell.

People at highest risk for hepatitis A infection are those who use street drugs (injection or non-injection), those currently or previously incarcerated, those who engage in anal or oral sex, and those with unstable housing or homelessness.

Hepatitis A vaccination is typically covered by insurance for adults if it is considered to be preventative, but each health insurance plan is different. Insured patients are encouraged to contact their insurer to learn whether the vaccine is covered, and if so, to check the cost of their co-pay. Medicaid and Medicare do not cover this vaccine for adults.  The hepatitis A vaccine is covered for children who have insurance with only a co-pay.

Hepatitis A virus is commonly spread because of poor hand hygiene which allows the transfer of small amounts of stool containing the virus. Thorough handwashing after going to the bathroom and vaccination are the best ways to prevent spread of hepatitis A. Food service workers are reminded to follow proper hand hygiene such as never touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands and not working while sick with stomach illnesses.

Since September 2018, Alabama has been investigating and working to prevent a hepatitis A outbreak from spreading statewide. As of August 21, there were 136 confirmed outbreak-related cases in almost half of Alabama counties.

For the latest numbers and location of outbreak-related cases, please go to http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/immunization/assets/HepatitisAoutbreakreport.pdf.

For more information about hepatitis A disease and vaccine, go to http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/immunization/recent-outbreaks.html.

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