Some would say we live in an age of technological enlightenment because we have instant access to volumes of information at the tips of our fingers. I remember not too long ago that it would take days to read through stacks of books and Encyclopedia Britannica, the grandfather Wikipedia, to obtain enough information on any topic. However, the price of our technological world is the amount of misinformation that can be found.
Consequently, wrong information spreads quickly and enables people to form incorrect ideas and beliefs. This can especially be seen about something as scary and serious as the current Hepatitis A (Hep A) outbreak we are witnessing in Idaho. Hep A is resurfacing in Idaho, and before too much incorrect information spreads, I want to give you the facts so you can take proper preventive measures and become an advocate against misinformation yourself.
First things first: what is Hepatitis A? It’s a highly contagious virus, also known as Hep A, that results in inflammation of the liver, but rarely leads to death. The disease can spread through contaminated food or drink, or through close personal contact with an infected person. Most of the time, the infected person does not know they are sick. Because of how contagious the disease is, anyone can contract Hep A. The good news is there’s an incredibly effective vaccine readily available. In fact, the vaccine is so effective that rates of the disease have declined by more than 95% since the vaccine was first made available in 1995.
Idaho is more vulnerable to preventable disease outbreaks than many of us would like because of low immunization rates. This puts vulnerable population segments, such as infants, older adults and those who are immunocompromised, like those going through chemotherapy, at risk. Because they cannot be immunized, they have to rely on what we call ‘herd immunity’ for protection. In order to achieve herd immunity, 93-95% of the community must be immunized; some counties in Idaho have immunization rates as low as 33.3%.
Because large numbers of Idahoans are choosing not to immunize, we are more vulnerable from the spreading Hep A virus. In 2018, the total number of cases of Hep A infection was eight, but alarmingly, from January 1 to June 20 of this year, there have been 26 outbreak-related infections. 54% of these cases were serious enough to result in hospitalization. That is more than a three-fold increase from the previous year.
This recent outbreak is a reminder of why it is so important to be up-to-date on your vaccinations, and to make sure your family and friends are, too. Help us to spread the word to keep Idaho Healthy by committing to become an immunization advocate with Get Immunized, Idaho. By educating ourselves and our community on the importance of vaccines, we can keep diseases like Hep A and other vaccine-preventable-illnesses from infecting the Gem state.
Dr. Kevin Cleveland, PharmD, ANP, is assistant dean and director for Experiential Education, Associate Professor, Idaho State University College of Pharmacy