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Metro Health Department warns about Hepatitis A outbreak

PHOTO: Lentz Public Health Center-FOX 17 News

The Metro Health Department is issuing a warning about a Hepatitis A outbreak. The department says it’s focusing on four at risk populations – the homeless, those incarcerated, homosexual and I.V. drug users.

“I started using drugs – cocaine, opioids and that sort of thing and then I started using an IV,” said Greg Stone.

Stone is a recovering drug addict who is now a counselor at Addiction Campuses helping others recover from addiction. He started using drugs in the 80’s. His method of choice – needles.

“At the height of my addiction, you wanted to use clean needles but you’re going to use whatever you can. Whatever is available. You’re going to use needles. You’ll try to mock up whatever you could. Being incarcerated, you’ll use needles after other people. It was not sterile at all,” said Stone.

It’s that very risk that’s left I.V. drug users susceptible to contracting hepatitis a. Those who are homeless and incarcerated are also at-risk populations. As of Thursday, there are 27 confirmed cases in Davidson county and the number is growing.

That might not sound like a lot but Nashville only sees about two cases a year.

“We anticipate seeing a jump in cases but hopefully it won’t spike and decrease,” said Rachel Franklin

If you don’t fall into either of those categories, why should it matter to you?

“Hepatitis A can be transmitted through various ways that you might see in regular contact with the public,” said Franklin.

The virus is spread by ingesting food or water that’s been contaminated with the fecal matter of an infected person. So, touching a dirty door knob, pumping gas or shaking hands can be riskier than you think.

“As long as we can continue to get folks vaccinated, we can stop the spread and hopefully we will have a lot more folks protected then are at risk,” said Franklin.

The health department has called in extra nurses to administer vaccines and are setting up remote vaccination sites in the city. Thursday, they received a shipment of 1,000 more vaccinations.

The Nashville Rescue Mission also taking precautions. Case managers who work in close contact with the homeless have been encouraged to receive Hepatitis A vaccines. Staff members are also doing extra cleaning at the shelters to prevent the virus from spreading, but some are a little harder to reach.

“The folks that are going to be most at risk are the people who are living in a homeless camp where there’s not good sanitation,” said Mike Tater who overseas case managers at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

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