There’s a growing epidemic in this country—and pharmacists can play a valuable role in keeping patients safe.
Over the last three years, Hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred in at least 29 states and sickened more than 23,600 people since 2016, according to a new report from Kaiser Health News.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that the state had its first death from a hepatitis A outbreak that began almost one year ago.
“Deaths from hepatitis A are rare, but they can occur, especially when people who have other medical conditions get the disease,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state communicable disease epidemiologist said in a statement. “This unfortunate death reminds us that the critical work our local public health agencies have been doing to vaccinate at-risk populations must continue. This outbreak is not over.”
While most children (61%) between the ages of 19 and 35 months are vaccinated for Hepatitis A as part of their routine recommended vaccinations, the rate of adults who are vaccinated against the disease is much lower. Just 9.5% of adults age 19 or older had been vaccinated in 2016, according to Kaiser Health News.
While the disease has spread so far mostly among drug users or the homeless population—it can be acquired by anyone who hasn’t gotten the vaccine.
“It’s getting into the general public,” Tracy Rodriguez, communicable disease supervisor for Summit County Public Health in Ohio told Kaiser Health News. “It’s scary.”
Those who are most at risk are often those who live in crowded areas, have greater health problems and have less access to preventative health care and adequate nutrition.
As a result of the growing epidemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health has recommended that all food service employees within the state get vaccinated and has encouraged anyone who handles food to use proper hygiene including frequent handwashing, according to Alabama news channel WAAY-TV.
One of the most effective ways to increase the spread of Hepatitis A is to increase the number of people who are vaccinated against Hepatitis A—especially as flu season is just around the corner.
“During this time of year, there are so many bacteria and viruses going on, especially with the flu season coming up,” Dr. Jillian Lann, a pharmacist at Madison Health Mart Pharmacy told WAAY-TV. “That’s going to be a major concern for me for people that have damage to their liver due to hepatitis A.”
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In Ohio, Rodriguez and her colleagues have administered more than 550 vaccinations, focusing on those who are the highest risk of getting the disease. They have administered the vaccinations to those in county jails, at drug treatment centers, syringe services programs and homeless communities.
“Outbreaks will stop when we have effectively vaccinated the vulnerable people,” Dr. Monique Foster, a medical officer in the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis told Kaiser Health News.
Pharmacists can also play a role by enhancing their vaccination efforts or programs in this area.