Stressing importance of vaccines

Hopefully, Pennsylvania residents will be hearing and reading much about hepatitis A in the days and weeks ahead, now that Pennsylvania has declared an outbreak of the liver infection — a declaration that has made the state eligible for federal money for the purchase of additional vaccine, if it is needed.

The state would be remiss if it failed to build aggressively on what was presented during an information session Monday at the Capitol Media Center in Harrisburg.

“The counties hardest hit by this outbreak are Philadelphia and Allegheny, but we have seen an increase of cases throughout much of the state,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine during Monday’s session. “We are taking this action now to be proactive in our response to treating Pennsylvanians suffering from this illness and prevent it from spreading.”

She added that the best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination.

While Pennsylvania could — and should — have acted more promptly, and thus more responsibly, in regard to alerting this state’s residents about what is being experienced on the hepatitis A front in neighboring states, it’s encouraging that Monday’s alert provides an opportunity for most Keystone State residents to react in the right way to prevent a big increase in new cases.

During Monday’s session, Levine said neighboring Ohio and West Virginia have seen more than 2,000 cases of the vaccine-preventable illness since January 2018, while Pennsylvania has recorded 171 cases in 36 counties over the same time period.

One problem surrounding hepatitis A is that many people infected do not experience any symptoms. However, those who do experience symptoms can be afflicted with problems lasting several weeks or even several months.

According to a state Department of Health press release, symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and jaundice.

On Monday, Levine said it’s difficult to know for sure why the outbreak of hepatitis A is occurring, but she said state health officials know that the commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like also-contagious hepatitis C — which may result in serious liver damage, including liver failure — and HIV because of the opioid epidemic.

People considered most at risk of contracting hepatitis A are those who have encountered persons with hepatitis A, people who use injected illicit drugs, homeless people, and men who engage in sexual activity with other men.

Further, there still are people who don’t wash their hands after using a public restroom and, thus, put others in danger of contracting diseases and infections due to their irresponsibility regarding a consideration so basic.

Moving forward, Pennsylvania health officials are encouraging people to access enhanced hepatitis A information, including an interactive map with vaccine clinics, on the Health Department website health.pa.gov.

However, the department needs to move quickly on other information fronts, such as through newspaper and electronic media advertisements — to inform those residents who might have missed news coverage about Monday’s session.

People cannot be expected to respond quickly and correctly if they aren’t adequately informed about why action on their part might be necessary.

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