Doctor helping patient

Twenty-two cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Forsyth County since Sept. 1, but no deaths have been reported locally, authorities said.

The number of cases has dramatically increased since 2015 when there were only five cases of hepatitis A reported in Forsyth County, said Joshua Swift, the director of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.

There was one case of hepatitis A reported in Forsyth in 2016, none in 2017 and one in 2018, Swift said.

Swift said he didn’t know if any deaths occurred in those years from the disease, but it was unlikely.

He added that he doesn’t believe that hepatitis A cases were under-reported in previous years.

“We are seeing more cases in those high-risk groups,” Swift said.

The source of the outbreak in Forsyth County is people who inject illegal drugs and other substances and share needles, homeless and transient people, people who have close contact or care for someone with hepatitis A, and men who have sex with other men, the health department said.

The health department has received information about people with the disease from primary-care doctors, health-care systems, urgent-care clinics and hospital emergency rooms, said Sarah Isom, a spokeswoman for the department.

“It’s been spread countywide,” Isom said. “It’s not like it’s coming from a certain street.”

Statewide, 134 cases of hepatitis A have been reported so far this year, and one person has died from the disease, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is reporting.

Hepatitis A, a communicable disease, is the inflammation of the liver caused by a ribonucleic virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person and spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of fecal matter from an infected person, the health department said.

The outbreak of hepatitis A statewide is among the same high-risk groups, said Kelly Connor, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of last Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there are 28,466 cases of hepatitis A nationwide, said Marcus Hubbard, an agency spokesman. So far, 288 people have died from the disease this year, and 17,316 people with the disease were treated in hospitals, Hubbard said.

Symptoms can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks, to a severe illness lasting several months, the health department said. Symptoms can appear abruptly and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.

Most people recover from the disease.

Anyone with symptoms of hepatitis A should contact a health-care provider immediately, and should not prepare food for or share personal objects with others, the health department said. A doctor can confirm if someone with symptoms has hepatitis A with a blood test.

People in high-risk groups can receive a free hepatitis A vaccination at the Forsyth County Department of Public Health at 799 N. Highland Ave. in Winston-Salem, Isom said.

Hand sanitizer doesn’t kill the hepatitis A virus, but bleach will do so, Isom said.

“Hand hygiene is very important,” she said.

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