Cases of hepatitis A, a vaccine-preventable, contagious liver infection, continue to increase in Hamilton County, according to an alert from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
Seven hepatitis A cases have been reported to the health department since early May 2018. Normally, zero to one cases of hepatitis A are reported per year.
"At this time, the health department is working to prevent the spread of the disease in our community," Dr. Valerie Boaz, health officer for the department, said in a statement. "We are focusing on certain risk factor groups and encouraging them to come in and get the vaccine for free."
Anyone can get the disease, but those most at risk for infection in the current outbreak are men who have sex with men, people who use recreational drugs and people who are homeless or transient.
Individuals in these high-risk groups may get the vaccine for free on a walk-in basis at any of the health department's five area clinics.
Vaccination is the most effective means of preventing hepatitis A infection. Other preventive measures include proper hand hygiene and avoiding drug use.
The virus is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, appetite loss, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
Symptoms may not appear in young children and many adults will have mild symptoms, but some infections will result in hospitalization or even death.
If someone has had direct contact with individuals suspected of hepatitis A infection, they are urged to contact the health department's epidemiology section at 423-209-8190.