Public health officials are continuing to urge Bartow residents to get vaccinated against hepatitis A after confirming 42 new cases of the highly contagious liver infection in the county in the past four months.
A total of 11 cases were reported in Bartow in a 12-month period between June 2018 and June 2019, when officials first noticed a major increase in the disease, said state Department of Public Health spokesman Logan Boss.
However, 42 new cases have been reported in Bartow since June, Boss said.
Dr. Zachary Taylor, interim health director of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Northwest Health District, said Hepatitis A continues to spread among Bartow County residents “and we are working to stop it here before it becomes any more widespread.”
“The best protection against hepatitis A is vaccination,” he said.
The Bartow County Health Department at 100 Zena Drive in Cartersville is offering free hepatitis A vaccinations during regular business hours with no appointment needed, a news release stated.
Boss said the health department has worked to get the word out to those most at risk that the health department offers free vaccinations through social media, the traditional media and other sources.
He said health officials are especially urging shots for those most at risk of the vaccine-preventable disease, especially illicit drug users — both injection and non-injection — and individuals who have recently been in jail or prison and their close contacts, a news release stated.
“We’ve had our health department workers going to jails … extended-stay motels,” Boss said.
“Officials are also encouraging all persons who work in food-service establishments, such as restaurants and cafeterias, to be vaccinated,” he said.
Those most at risk of hepatitis A include homeless or transient individuals; users of both injection and non-injection illicit drugs; individuals who have a history of incarceration in jail or prison; those in close contact with people with hepatitis A; and men who are intimate with other men, the release stated.
“We urge individuals with one or more of these risk factors, especially illicit drug use, to get vaccinated,” Taylor said.
Boss said a total of 320 cases — or 42% — of the 761 cases of hepatitis A confirmed statewide since June 2018 have been in the 10-county Northwest Health District which includes Bartow County.
“For perspective, the entire Northwest Health District normally confirms, on average, one hepatitis A case per year,” he said.
Boss said Georgia saw the disease spread along the state’s major highway corridors from Tennessee and Florida where it already had been on the increase.
According to the CDC, Georgia is one of 30 states that since 2016 have experienced a widespread person-to-person outbreak of the highly contagious liver infection — which has hospitalized about 60% of Georgians got it, the release stated.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to practice good hygiene, proper handwashing, careful and sanitary preparation of food, and by getting vaccinated against the hepatitis A virus, the news release stated.
“If you’ve had hepatitis A, you have lifelong immunity to the disease and do not need to be vaccinated,” Taylor said. “Also, since hepatitis A vaccination is required for school-age children born on or after Jan. 1, 2006, these individuals may not need vaccination.
“Health department staff can check your vaccination status if you are unsure if you were previously vaccinated,” he said.
Taylor said adults should get the vaccine against the disease “if they fit into one of these risk factors.”
“If they don’t, their risk is so low that getting vaccinated is a matter of personal preference,” Taylor said. “If you are not sure whether you should get the hepatitis A vaccine, talk with your doctor about your specific concerns.”
Two shots given six months apart are recommended for lifelong protection against hepatitis A. The first shot affords protection for up to 11 years and the health department can provide the second shot to individuals who request it, the release stated.
For more information about hepatitis A and free hepatitis A vaccinations, call the Bartow County Health Department at 770-382-1920 or visit https://nwgapublichealth.org.