For the first time, the Spokane health district is publicly urging all 410,000 county residents to be vaccinated against hepatitis A. The countywide “call to action” was issued Wednesday afternoon because of the virus outbreak, which began last year.
More than 120 people have tested positive for hepatitis A so far this year, compared with 190 in all of 1997.
“I’m recommending people think about this much more seriously,” said Dr. Kim Thorburn, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District. “We’re all at some risk, as the epidemic continues.”
The district previously recommended vaccinations for food-service workers, child-care workers, septic workers and at-risk groups such as drug users and people with liver disease.
Food handlers at one grocery store and two restaurants have been infected since last fall. Because of those exposures, thousands of restaurant customers lined up at the health district for dwindling shots of immune globulin over the past three months. Immune globulin can prevent the onset of hepatitis A if given within 14 days.
Since the public black eye, restaurants have jumped on the immunization train. Signs proclaim, “We’ve been vaccinated.”
More than 150 food establishments have immunized their workers. That’s about 10 percent of county food establishments, Thorburn said.
But the hepatitis A epidemic still isn’t slowing, which is why Thorburn is now recommending that everyone get vaccinated against the virus.
Communities are usually hit with hepatitis A outbreaks about once every 10 years. During the last outbreak in Spokane, in the late ‘80s, there wasn’t a vaccine.
Now there is. The new vaccine prevents people from getting the disease for at least 10 years and possibly for life. The vaccine costs $84 for two shots.
“I’m just saying to our residents, we’re all at some risk,” Thorburn said. “Why don’t you think about getting vaccinated?”
Hepatitis A is highly contagious and affects the liver. It’s spread by the fecal-oral route, through personal contact or by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Proper handwashing usually prevents the virus’ spread.
Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice.
Health officials stressed that the “call to action” is voluntary.
“This is not a radical change in policy,” said Dr. Paul Stepak, epidemiologist at the health district. Health officials have always advocated vaccines to combat the hepatitis A virus. This is the first time, however, for a public recommendation.
“What it represents is kind of a timely reminder, more than anything else,” Stepak said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Vaccine For hepatitis A vaccine, contact your doctor or the Spokane Regional Health District at 324-1500. The vaccine costs $84 for two shots.