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Hepatitis outbreaks cause public health scare

Category: Liver Diseases

Two very public hepatitis scares, one involving hepatitis A and the other hepatitis C, have brought the disease into the public eye, as thousands have gotten tested and received shots in the aftermath of the outbreak.

A hepatitis A outbreak crossed state lines from Illinois to Iowa this month, as 23 people came down with the disease and up to 10,000 were potentially exposed to the virus by way of an infected worker at a McDonald's in Milan, Illinois.

In the Illinois outbreak, local health officials have been providing free preventive shots for the disease as well as hepatitis testing for those who think they may have been exposed.

"Once we were notified of this matter by the Rock Island County Health Department on July 13, we took immediate corrective action to address their concerns," said Kevin Murphy, the owner of the McDonald's franchise. "No one ill knowingly worked in our restaurant once we were notified. The Rock Island County Health Department has repeatedly said that they have not confirmed the source of the outbreak. In fact, they believe, based on the number of confirmed cases, that it's most likely there are multiple sources."

Two of Murphy's employees are among those who came down with the disease. At least one lawsuit has been filed by a patron of the restaurant.

Hepatitis A is spread by consuming food or drink contaminated with the hepatitis A virus, or by contact with an infected person. It lasts from a few weeks to several months, but doesn't lead to a chronic infection. Symptoms can be mild or serious and it is estimated that 25,000 people are infected with hepatitis A every year in the U.S.

Another outbreak in Colorado

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kristen Diane Parker, a surgical technician in Colorado, was arrested and held without bail for stealing painkiller and passing dirty syringes onto patients. Parker is infected with hepatitis C and 10 patients at the hospital where she worked came down with the disease. Although the infections have not been definitively linked to Parker yet, almost 6,000 patients who received surgery over the time she worked there have been informed by health officials they may have been exposed and are getting hepatitis C tests.

Further investigation has uncovered that Parker worked in both New York and Texas and health officials there have launched further investigations. New York has ordered hepatitis C testing for 2,800 patients; Texas is still investigating.

Hepatitis C is spread by coming into contact with infected blood, most commonly by sharing dirty needles. It can be a short, mild illness but in 75 to 85 percent of cases results in chronic infection which can lead to liver scarring, liver failure or cancer of the liver, any of which can be fatal.

There are an estimated 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. with chronic hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but most are unaware they have the disease since they do not display any symptoms.

Treatment options

Chronic hepatitis C infection can be treated, but not cured.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins compared the two leading hepatitis C treatments and found them to be equally effective at treating the disease, a result which surprised the researchers. The results mean that patients can decide which therapy to use based on which is most tolerable to them personally.

For both drugs, results were best when treatment is begun before cirrhosis of the liver sets in, the researchers said. Because the disease can often be asymptomatic, hepatitis testing for patients at risk is a wise precaution.ADNFCR-2248-ID-19279814-ADNFCR

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