West Virginia has had 98 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A so far this year, with some of them caused by the same strain of the liver virus that has sickened people across the country.

To view a larger version of this chart, please click on the image.

“That’s an increase in cases for West Virginia,” Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department Administrator Candance Hurd told the Register-Herald newspaper. “Some of the cases have been linked to the outbreak going on in other states.”

State health officials also referenced the connection to a multi-state outbreak that has hit California and Michigan particularly hard. Kentucky also has a relatively high number of cases.

“Viral sequencing has linked several cases with outbreaks in Kentucky and California,” according to the most recent update posted by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

As of May 18, West Virginia had 98 confirmed cases, three probable, and five suspects. Almost three-fourths of the sick people, 71, have had such severe symptoms that they had to be admitted to hospitals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a multi-state outbreak of the highly contagious virus in March 2017. Since then, at least 1,200 cases have been reported, and more than 40 people have died.

In West Virginia, Kanawha and Putnam counties announced a number of confirmed cases earlier this month, including several cases among food service workers. The Department of Health and Human Resources  (DHHR) has initiated an outbreak response.

Hurd said data is not yet available to determine whether cases are on the rise in Raleigh County, but a May 11 DHHR release reported cases had been confirmed in Cabell, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Wayne and Wyoming counties — the majority in Kanawha (62 cases) and Putnam (22 cases), the Register-Herald reported.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, encouraged all food establishments to take time to review the importance of adequate and proper hand washing and glove use to prevent food contamination. He also has asked that all health departments in West Virginia be sent additional food establishment signage to post in local restaurants.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, jaundice and dark urine.

It can take up to 50 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. The illness can last a few weeks in mild cases to months in some severe cases, leading to liver failure and death.

The infection can be prevented with a vaccine that is administered in two doses six months apart and gives lifetime protection.

Hurd encouraged the general population in West Virginia to be vaccinated for both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Vaccines are available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department, 1602 Harper Road.

Hepatitis A is spread when a person ingests fecal matter, including microscopic amounts. It can be transmitted when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper and then touches objects or food, or when someone engages in sexual activities with an infected person.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)