LIVINGSTON PARISH, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) confirms they are monitoring an outbreak of hepatitis A in Livingston Parish.
LDH says hep A is “a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is a vaccine-preventable illness that is easily spread through close contact, as well as from sharing injection and non-injection drugs.”
One death in the state due to hep A was reported in April.
Besides a tear-jerking dream, the last week for Earl Achord of Denham Springs has been a blur.
“When God lifted me up, and my grandma lifted me up like an angel and started singing, that’s the only thing I really remember, and it sticks with me. I do believe I almost even died in my sleep,” he said.
It started Tuesday, May 14. This otherwise healthy 36-year-old man’s body was being attacked. It can feel like a stomach bug, but for some, it hits the body much harder. Achord says he thought he was having a heart attack.
Two days later, his doctor told him to go to the emergency room in Baton Rouge for more testing. His white blood cells were out of whack, his wife Sarah says. He has hepatitis A.
Both husband and wife say at that point, they thought the worst was behind them, but the Achords weren’t out of the woods yet. Earl’s health went backward Saturday and it landed him in the ER, where he was given harsh news.
“He says it’s a possibility that you’re going to be sent to New Orleans for a liver transplant,” Earl said.
Thankfully, Earl wasn’t transferred and doesn’t currently need a new liver. He’s home recovering.
LDH says the infection spreads fairly easily. Joseph Kanter, assistant state health officer for LDH said, "It’s transmitted most frequently by the fecal, oral route. A small piece of infected fecal matter will end up touching someone else and then they’ll touch it their mouth.”
However, it’s most commonly seen where people are close together, similar to a prison, among people who share needles, and the homeless.
As of May 17, Louisiana has reported 176 cases of the hepatitis A virus, three of which aren’t connected to the current outbreak. Livingston Parish has the highest number of cases, with somewhere between 41 and 50 people infected. East Baton Rouge Parish is not far behind that figure, with 21 to 30 cases.
Achord says he doesn’t fall into any of those categories and he’s got the bug.
“Automatically, they think hepatitis, ‘oh drugs,’ hepatitis, sex. No, it’s not. It can come from unsanitary food," he said.
The state does recognize the illness has potential to spread people outside of those groups, but unless someone is in close contact with them, they say it’s rare.
“There’s no recommendation at the moment to do anything or give any type of medicine or vaccine to folks that are outside of those risk categories, although that would certainly change if our outbreak would grow,” Kanter said.
And since there isn’t a quick fix, the Achords are just allowing the illness to run it’s course.
“Helpless. Basically, you’re under the gun of it, ya’ know. Basically, whatever happens is about to happen. We have no control over what about to happen to you," he said.
Achord says he now has liver damage and must continue to monitor his levels. His wife and children have been vaccinated. When Achord is well enough again, he will also get the vaccination.
LDH updates their website weekly with new information about confirmed cases of hep A. Click here for more.
LDH says symptoms of hep A include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark-colored urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain