Health Department Urges Hepatitis A and B Vaccinations, and Hepatitis C Testing in May

For Immediate Release:
May 2, 2008

Media Contact:
Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – The Vermont Department of Health is encouraging anyone at risk for infection from three viruses that harm the liver - hepatitis A, B and C - to be aware of these diseases, to get tested, and to get vaccinated. May is Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month.

“All three of these viruses are similar in that they cause damage to the liver,” said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN, “but they differ in several ways, including how they are transmitted; and how they can be prevented.”

When someone has hepatitis A, the virus is present in the stool (fecal matter). The virus can be spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that is contaminated with infected stool. For this reason, the virus is more easily spread under poor sanitary conditions, and when good handwashing is not observed.

People can also get hepatitis A by consuming contaminated water or ice, raw shellfish harvested from water contaminated by sewage, and uncooked fruits, vegetables or other foods contaminated during handling.

Hepatitis B is spread through blood-to-blood contact and through sexual contact. Both hepatitis A and B can be prevented by a vaccine available at health care provider offices statewide, or at one of the 12 Health Department district offices. The Health Department is offering the vaccine free of charge, after scheduling an appointment, at district offices in Bennington, Brattleboro, Springfield, Newport and St. Johnsbury during May. Vermonters at risk for infection with hepatitis A or B are encouraged to get vaccinated.

People who use street drugs, have multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men, anyone who has sex for money, people with liver disease, or anyone who has sex with a person-at-risk are eligible for free vaccinations.

Hepatitis C, the second most commonly reported communicable disease in Vermont, is preventable by avoiding contact with infected blood, but there is no vaccine for the virus. Vermonters at risk for hepatitis C often do not know they are infected, since they commonly do not develop symptoms and can remain unaware for years.

Knowing your hepatitis C status is important because treatment with drugs is available and lifestyle changes, such as not drinking alcohol, can minimize chronic – and potentially fatal – damage to the liver.

Based on national statistics, as many as 12,000 Vermonters could be infected with hepatitis C. Most are not likely aware they are infected.

People at risk for hepatitis C include those who:

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The only way to prevent hepatitis C is to prevent exposure.

Free and anonymous hepatitis C testing is available at three syringe-exchange programs in Burlington, St. Johnsbury and White River Junction. Because injection drug users are at highest risk for exposure, low-cost sterile syringes are are also available without a prescription at some pharmacies in Vermont.

Possession of needles and syringes as part of a needle exchange program is not in violation of Vermont’s paraphernalia law. 

For more information about hepatitis and for information on how to schedule a vaccination, see the schedule below, or visit the Health Department website at:
http://healthvermont.gov/local/vaccine-clinics.aspx.

Bennington:
Department of Health, Bennington District Office, call Christine Bongartz for more information or to set up an appointment, (802) 447-6400.

Brattleboro:
Department of Health, Brattleboro District Office, by appointment, (802) 257-2880, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Springfield:
Department of Health, Springfield District Office, by appointment, (802) 885-8933, Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Newport:
Department of Health, Newport District Office, on May 12th from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., no appointment necessary. Call Linda Oliver or Barbara Thompson at (802) 334-6707 for more information.

St. Johnsbury:
Department of Health, St. Johnsbury District Office, on Friday May, 16, 2008 from 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m., by appointment. Call Ed Demott at (802) 748-5151 for more information.

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