Hepatitis A vaccination campaign launched in Nunavik

Regional health board investigating spread of disease in region

A vaccination effort against hepatitis A was launched Tuesday by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services. (File photo by Sarah Rogers)

By Madalyn Howitt

A vaccination campaign against hepatitis A is being launched in Nunavik in response to a recent spread of the disease.

The vaccine will be offered to children from the age of 18 months to nine years old, and to adults born between 1970 and 1981 who were not part of earlier vaccination campaigns. The campaign will open to all Nunavik residents at a later date, said Josee Levesque, a spokesperson for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

“The best way to protect yourself and your family from hepatitis A is to get vaccinated,” said Levesque, who added that people can receive the hepatitis A vaccine at the same time they receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Levesque said that hepatitis A is spreading in the Nunavik region and that the health board is investigating where it came from.

Hepatitis A is considered very contagious and is commonly spread when people ingest it after touching an object or consuming food or drink contaminated by an infected person.

Contact with the feces of an infected person, by changing diapers or cleaning up stool, can lead to infection, and other contaminated sources may include water, ice, shellfish, or raw or frozen fruits and vegetables, Levesque said.

The health board recommends that residents drink water from a safe supply. Water from outside a municipal system should be boiled for at least two minutes before consumption. People with symptoms should not cook for others or go to school or daycare.

According to Health Canada, a person can be contagious even before symptoms appear. It is common for children not to show symptoms of hepatitis A, and up to 15 per cent of people who do not show symptoms can still carry the disease for up to six months.

Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver, said Selena Sagan, an associate professor of virology at the University of McGill. Symptoms can often manifest as fatigue, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort, loss of appetite, and signs of jaundice like yellowish skin or dark urine.

“Once you get infected with hepatitis A virus, usually there’s a few weeks before symptoms are detectable and then typically, the infection will pass between four and six weeks,” she said.

Whereas hepatitis B and C are chronic infections, meaning they cannot be cleared without pharmacological intervention or treatment, Sagan explained, hepatitis A is an acute infection.

“Usually symptoms are typically relatively mild,” she said. “But it can cause severe illness in those that are immunocompromised.”

Nunavik remains under a “red alert” for COVID-19, with the health board reporting 248 active cases of the virus on Monday.

While there hasn’t been enough research into COVID-19 co-infections yet, Sagan said it’s possible that contracting COVID-19 and hepatitis A at the same time would lead to longer infections for immunocompromised people.

“Certainly, there are some overlapping symptoms because your body’s trying to fight off a virus, so if your body’s preoccupied with something else that it’s fighting, that could possibly prolong symptoms,” Sagan said.

“The good thing is that a lot of the procedures we’re putting in place to control COVID is frequent hand washing and limiting contact with others, which should also help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.”

Nunavik residents seeking more information about where to access vaccines, or to check if they have already been vaccinated against hepatitis A, are encouraged to check for updates on the health board’s Facebook page or call their local community service centre or nursing station.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by D on

    2 shots at the same time? Wtf

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