The disease can be spread through ingestion of contaminated food or drinks. (Image: MGNOnline)

The Chattanooga Hamilton County Health Department has reported an increase in the number of hepatitis A virus cases.

One case is typically reported to the department a year. Since May 2018, seven cases have been reported.

Similar cases have been reported in Middle Tennessee and several other states.

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“Hepatitis A is a contagious, vaccine-preventable liver infection,” Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Valerie Boaz said in a prepared statement. “Hepatitis A usually spreads by the fecal-oral route through ingestion of contaminated food or drinks, close person-to-person contact with an infected person, and sexual contact with an infected person.”

According to the CDC, hepatitis A generally doesn’t lead to chronic infection and symptoms resolve after a couple of months. Hepatitis A is different from the more severe types—hepatitis B and C.

Each infection is caused by three different viruses. Symptoms of each can be similar but can affect the liver in different ways.

Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection, whereas B and C can start as short-term infections but—in some people—the virus remains in the body and can cause a lifelong infection, also according to the CDC.

The Health Department is investigating current cases, monitoring new ones and working to educate the community about how the disease is spread and how it can be prevented.

They are also conducting a vaccination program for high-risk individuals to get the vaccine for free.

The hepatitis A vaccine is the best way to prevent contracting or spreading the disease along with good hygiene, such as washing hands with soap and warm water after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food.

Avoiding recreational drugs is also a preventive measure, officials said.

“The symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice,” Boaz said.

Although anyone can get the disease, those most at risk for hepatitis A include those experiencing homelessness, people who use drugs recreationally and men who have sex with men.

“Anyone in the high-risk groups can get the vaccine from any of our health department clinics for free and on a walk-in basis,” Boaz said. “One dose can provide several years of protection while the two-dose series can provide a lifetime of protection.”

Anyone with these risk factors is eligible to receive a free hepatitis A vaccine at any of the Health Department locations:

• Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, 921 East 3rd Street
• Birchwood Health Center, 5625 Hwy 60, Birchwood, Tennessee
• Homeless Health Care Center, 730 East 11th St
• Ooltewah Health Center, 5520 High St, Ooltewah
• Sequoyah Health Center, 9527 West Ridge Trail Road, Soddy-Daisy

Each location is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. No appointment is necessary.

Savannah Bennett is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC where she is a feature writer for the student newspaper, The University Echo. She is a double major in communication and English. Savannah was also a participant in the Disney College Program during the fall of 2017.

Updated at 12:11 p.m. June 28 to reflect there are now seven reported cases.

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