Wednesday night, the Erie County Health Department set up a clinic at the Bowmansville Volunteer Fire Association hall to treat people who may have been exposed to Hepatitis-A, after a food service worker tested positive for the virus.
The health department made this announcement Tuesday afternoon. A spokesperson for the health department tells Channel 2 more than 100 people called them in the hours after the announcement to say they would be there on Wednesday.
They administered two different kinds of shots at the clinic: Hepatitis-A Vaccine and Hep-A immunoglobulin. Dr. John Crane, a professor of medicine at UB's Division of Infectious Diseases, tells Channel 2 that even if someone has been exposed to the virus, both the vaccine and the immunoglobulin can help prevent a full blown infection.
"You can block the development of Hepatitis-A disease very effectively with the combination of one or the other or both," Dr. Crane said.
Although there is just one confirmed case in Erie County, Dr. Crane says health officials will be busy for the next few weeks. He attributes this to Hep-A's 2-4 week incubation period.
"The long incubation period does present certain challenges," Crane said. "You don't know you're out of the woods until several weeks have gone by. But the long incubation period also gives public health authorities a chance to do something. So during that time we can give you the Hepatitis-A immunoglobulin and the vaccine. So there's a window of opportunity to intervene."
Hep-A can be spread by contaminated food or water. It can easily be spread to family members or those you're intimate with.
Dr. Crane explains, "This would generally occur in close household contacts where you're sharing the same bathroom as that person."
Like other hepatitis strains, this particular virus infects and replicates in the liver, which is why some infected people report feeling some pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen where the liver is located.
The symptoms someone might notice first is dark brownish urine, light colored stools, as well as a sudden distaste for protein rich foods like meats and fish. If you're a smoker, we're told you'll likely turn away from that, too.
Hepatitis-A can seem flu-like, but experts say it doesn't have any of the upper respiratory symptoms.
The most tell-tale signs of this disease is jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes or skin. While 90 percent of adults show that symptom, Dr. Crane says it's not so clear with kids, "Young children, when they get infected with hepatitis-A, they do not become very ill. Their skin does not turn yellow and their eyes don't turn yellow. They just seem like a normal kid, except that they're shedding large amounts of hepatitis-A in their feces. So, if they're of diaper age, anyone who changes their diaper is at risk of catching Hepatitis-A. If they're in daycare, their daycare mates and their daycare providers are at risk."
Dr. Crane stresses, there is only the one confirmed case, so this is far from an epidemic. Although hepatitis-A is rare in the U.S., there are recent outbreaks.
"It's been going down in the United States over the last several decades, but it's not an extinct disease," warns Dr. Crane. "And there's been a very large outbreak of hepatitis-A in San Diego, among San Diego's large homeless population. That started last year in the fall of 2017, and is continuing."
The Erie County Health Department interviewed the infected person, but the commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein tells us it's difficult to nail down the source of his infection.
Dr. Crane tells 2 On Your Side hepatitis-A is especially dangerous for populations that already have issues with the liver, such as people with liver cancer, sorosis of the liver, or another form of hepatitis.
This is especially concerning, we're told, because of the rise in hepatitis-C cases resulting from the heroin crisis and sharing needles.