Hep A outbreak

Clean, healthy living is usually used to describe what goes in someone’s body. But a similar mindset could keep something out.

The Pierce College Student Health Center received an email from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warning of a local outbreak of hepatitis A due to recent cases that appear to have been locally contracted.

The outbreak raises concerns for school officials because of the high-contact environment and accessibility of school facilities to the public.

“While many of us can’t imagine going to the bathroom without washing our hands, people do, especially children,” Benne said.

Health Center Director Beth Benne said hepatitis A is transmitted through fecal-oral contamination. Anyone can come in contact with the virus through an infected person’s feces, food or other contaminated objects.

People can contract the virus through bodily contact. A handshake with an infected and improperly washed hand could mean infection for the other person.

Food handlers are also responsible. In restaurants, there are signs stating that employees must wash their hands every time they use the bathroom, Benne said.

“The best thing anybody can do is get the vaccine and hand washing,” Benne said. “The protocol is two vaccines, with six months in between one and two, and it is lifelong.”

Benne said the Student Health Center will also take part in advising students on campus.

“We practice what we preach, and we’re always preaching hand washing, and we’re passing out hand sanitizers,” Benne said. “Right now, it’s about pushing immunization and proper hand washing.”

Restrooms on campus are also a concern in the event of a local outbreak.

“Our plant facilities does a tremendous job, and I think everybody can participate in the solution to our bathrooms,” Benne said.

Students need to check their immunization records to make sure they received the two doses against hepatitis A, Benne said.

Kira Shteyman, a faculty nurse practitioner, said contamination is as easy as someone who has the hepatitis A virus touching food or a surface and then infecting the person who touches that same food or surface.

“It’s a concern, especially, in enclosed areas where you have students. People who handle food, children, hospital workers, those who work with the homeless, or those who work in places with a lot of people, are at the most risk of getting hepatitis,” Shteyman said.

Good hand washing is a must and so is vaccination, which the center offers on campus, Shteyman said.

M.D. Physician Mitchell Nishimoto said hepatitis contamination could complicate other existing conditions.

“Once it enters the body, it localizes its damage to the liver,” Nishimoto said.

Nishimoto said students should wash their hands with soap and water as frequently as they can, and avoid resorting to hand sanitizers unless there is no other option available.

“Because it’s so highly contagious, that’s why the Health Department gets involved once you start getting cases. It’s very easy to spread if there isn’t good hygiene,” Nishimoto said.