Hepatitis A Outbreak Spreads Through Northeast Georgia

One hundred people in northeast Georgia have been infected with hepatitis A in the first half of this year, and health officials are uncertain as to the cause of the outbreak.

"That compares to 20 cases during the same period in 2002," said Julie Wolthuis, epidemiologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health. "Most of the reported cases have been in adults, but that may be because adults tend to be much more symptomatic," added Wolthuis.

Outbreaks of hepatitis A are typically connected to daycare centers, restaurants or prisons, but this year's cases have occurred randomly throughout the 13-county district, according to Wolthuis. "There's no pattern to it," she said. "We've done phone interviews [with patients] and haven't been able to pinpoint one risk factor over another. Nothing jumped out at us."

Hepatitis A is usually spread through fecal-oral contact, such as touching the mouth after using the restroom or changing a diaper, and infects about 23,000 Americans each year. It generally causes mild illness, with a few days or weeks of fever, nausea and jaundice. And unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can cause chronic liver infection, long-term liver damage is not associated with hepatitis A.

"We noticed an increase in cases [of hepatitis A] when school started last year," said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for the Hall County school system. "Usually, we get only a couple of cases, but during the past school year we had seven or eight. At least one of the students was hospitalized," reported Coker.

Melody Stancil, director of the public health office in Gainesville, said the outbreak peaked in February and March, and the number of cases has been dropping since then. In Georgia, children are immunized against hepatitis B only, although vaccines are available for hepatitis A.