​​Paweł Czerwiński photo


The Franklin County Health Department has confirmed 13 new hepatitis A cases in the past six days, four of them over the weekend, and the numbers continue to grow.

County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said since Jan. 1, there have been 36 confirmed cases in Franklin County.

“The majority of the confirmed cases are admitted drug users,” Brinker said. “And 26 are admitted intravenous drug users.”

Over the weekend, the Crawford County Health Department gave out 138 hepatitis A vaccines to people associated with the Crawford County Jail due to an infected Franklin County resident being incarcerated there.

Public Health Nurse Wendy Avila told The Missourian Franklin County notified Crawford County a suspect in their custody was infected with the virus prompting the vaccines.

Avila said 86 inmates were vaccinated, as well as Crawford County Sheriff’s deputies and Missouri S​​tate Highway Patrol officers who had contact or transported inmates. Jail kitchen and custodial staff also were vaccinated.

After nearly 850 vaccinations were administered to county residents who may have eaten at the Jack in the Box in Union in recent weeks, health officials are now worried more eating establishments and their customers may be at risk.

Brinker said there are currently no specific threats to businesses, and none of the new cases are food handlers.

“We know many of these infected individuals live together,” he said. “They also work at specific types of jobs, so the propensity of more infection is there.”

Brinker explained the health department learns of the new cases from health care providers who are mandated by law to report the communicable virus to health officials.

“Our health department then investigates and contacts the infected individuals to determine who else may have been in contact with them,” he said.

“Depending on how this goes, if we start getting crazy, crazy numbers we will have to get the state involved on a greater level,” Brinker said.

He stressed the key to stopping the virus will be for residents to be mindful of any symptoms they may be experiencing.

There are hepatitis A cases reported in Washington, St. Clair, Union, Sullivan, Stanton, Beaufort, Lonedell, Catawissa, Villa Ridge, Pacific, Gerald and Leslie.

Health department nursing supervisor Donna Vandegriffe said since Jan. 1, staff here, with assistance from the state of Missouri, have administered 1,305 vaccines.

Although supplies of vaccines are currently low, 300 more doses were ordered Monday and should arrive by the end of the week.

Vandegriffe explained the health department is still giving out free vaccines to high-risk groups;

Those who have had contact with an infected person, drug users, or have had close contact with drug users; men who have sex with other men, or those in close contact with men who have sex with other men; anyone in a drug treatment program, or in close contact with someone in a treatment program; anyone who is homeless, or in close contact with a homeless person.

Vandegriffe stressed the free vaccines are only for high-risk individuals, but anyone not meeting that criteria can get a vaccinee using their health insurance, or can pay the $107 fee out of pocket.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown-colored urine and light-colored stools.

By By Monte Miller | Missourian