Hepatitis B continues to be concern in W.Va.

PARKERSBURG – Mid-Ohio Health Department officials said Hepatitis B continues to be a concern, as statewide, incidence numbers are among the highest in the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1999 through 2008, reported rates of acute Hepatitis B in West Virginia increased by more than 150 percent. Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus. It is spread through contact with blood or certain body fluids of an infected person.

“West Virginia has a high incidence of Hepatitis B,” said Tonia Lang, Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department clinical director.

“We have the highest incidence in the country. People don’t realize . It’s a tough bug, it can stay alive on surfaces for days. People normally think that primarily intravenous drug users are the ones who are at risk, but because the incidence rate is so high, I worry that everyone is potentially at risk without even knowing it. If you have a cut on your finger and you touch a surface that’s infected, you’re infected,” said Dick Wittberg, MOVHD executive director.

Hepatitis B is bloodborne.

“The highest risk factor for Hepatitis B is intravenous drug users, but it can be spread through sexual contact, you are at risk if you have multiple sex partners, and through other contact, and other needle use,” Wittberg said.

“In some parts of the state where this is rampant, they have gotten the rates under control by using needle exchanges,” Wittberg said. “This high incidence rate has been an issue for at least the last five years,” Wittberg said.

With the aid of a federal grant received through the state, the local health department has the series of vaccinations for Hepatitis B available through their Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinics.

“We can give the vaccine to anyone who wants it, but the series of shots is expensive. Through this grant, we are able to provide the shots through the STD clinics for the higher risk clients. It’s aimed at high risk individuals,” Lang said.

The STD clinics at the local health department are available on a walk-in basis, Monday and Thursday, sign-in is between noon and 12:30 p.m. at the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department headquarters, 211 Sixth St., Parkersburg.

“We will do an assessment. Most in those clinics have the risk factors just by the fact they are there and we are to offer the vaccine to everyone,” Lang said.

Symptoms may include: jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, fever.

“You may have nausea, vomiting, low-grade fever, stomach cramps,” said Jessica Woods, MOVHD interim epidemiologist.

“It can appear almost like flu-like symptoms,” Lang said.

“It affects the liver, and it can kill you,” Wittberg said.

Wittberg noted it’s also recommended first responders, those who may have contact with someone who is infected, get the vaccine.

“But the risk is there for anyone to get Hepatitis B,” Wittberg said.

According to the CDC, there may or may not have symptoms. Symptoms can last several weeks and may include yellowing of the skin and eyes, nausea, fever, fatigue, stomach pain, and dark urine. Sometimes the virus stays in the body for years and causes long-lasting illness (chronic HBV infection) that can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, and death.

The CDC recommends Hepatitis B vaccine for all persons 018 years of age. CDC also recommends Hepatitis B vaccination for all adults who are in risk groups for the infection, as well as for any adults who want to be protected from Hepatitis B. A list of those recommended to have the shot is listed on the CDC’s website www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

The national rate for Hepatitis B is 1.2 per 100,000 people. In West Virginia, the rate is 3.6 per 100,000, according to health officials.

Effective Hepatitis B vaccines have been available in the United States since 1981. In the United States, 700,000-1.4 million persons are estimated to be infected with the virus most of whom are unaware of their infection status.