We occasionally hear about cases of hepatitis A virus (HAV), though not usually in association with schools. There has recently been a confirmed case of hepatitis A at Passaic High School in New Jersey, and you may have heard about a few cases among students and their families at different UK schools that have been popping up since November (you can read more here, here, and here).
In the New Jersey school, the infected person worked in the teacher’s cafeteria, and the school will be providing vaccinations this Thursday for the teachers and staff who ate food from the teacher’s cafeteria between January 15th and January 30th.
The school district is working with public health officials, and the teacher’s cafeteria has been given an extensive cleaning. The Superintendent of Schools also sent a letter to parents and staff, letting them know a school employee had been diagnosed with HAV. Overall, health officials think it is unlikely the disease will affect the students, particularly as they eat in a separate cafeteria. The school has also not been seeing increased cases of absenteeism. As a precaution, school officials have asked parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of HAV in their children, and practice good hygiene and handwashing.
Meanwhile, across the pond, it was recently discovered that an additional eight people in a family had the virus in November, bringing the number of confirmed cases in this slow outbreak to 17. As a precautionary measure, children and staff at three schools, or about 700 people, are to be vaccinated or have received the vaccine in the past few months.
Public Health England believed that the risk of transmission within the schools was low, and that it was more likely the virus was being spread between families, which based on the actual cases, is just what has happened.
The common symptoms of HAV infection include fever, tiredness, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, and jaundice, which is a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. One complicating factor for the virus in school populations is that younger age groups tend to not show symptoms of the virus. An additional complicating factor is that it can be a month or more before someone infected with the virus starts feeling unwell. There is a vaccine that is able to prevent the symptoms, if it is administered within two weeks of exposure.