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Immune globulin shots encouraged for possible exposure to hepatitis A


Today is the last day for people who might have been exposed to hepatitis A at a Solomons Island restaurant during Labor Day weekend to receive maximum benefit from an immune globulin shot.

The Calvert County Health Department is offering shots of immune globulin - a preparation of antibodies that help combat the virus - for $29 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today for people who dined at the Catamarans Restaurant from Sept. 1 through Sept. 4, said Susan Ratterree, the health department's director of community health. About 35 people received shots during the weekend, she said.

Ratterree said people who might have been exposed should receive the immune globulin by today because, when taken within two weeks of exposure, it is about 85 percent effective in decreasing a person's chances of developing hepatitis A. She said about 24 people from Calvert and St. Mary's counties have been diagnosed with the virus, all stemming from restaurants, including Catamarans.

The health department offered the shots after it was notified last week that a food-service worker at Catamarans might have exposed people during Labor Day weekend, Ratterree said.

Ratterree said she didn't know how many people would request the shots because Solomons Island is a tourist area that many people visit only on weekends.

"We're hoping that they access services through their local health department," she said.

The symptoms of hepatitis A include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and tea-colored urine, Ratterree said. It can be transferred through contaminated food, sexual contact or contaminated intravenous drug paraphernalia, and the incubation period ranges from two to seven weeks, she said.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore City health commissioner, said hepatitis A, a liver disease, is not very serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, the symptoms normally last less than two months, and few people are sick for as long as six months.

Ratterree said community members have been concerned about the disease and have been responding appropriately to the risk.

"If they are at risk, they've been seeking medical care," she said.

Cases of hepatitis A also have been discovered in Baltimore. Five pupils at city elementary schools have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, Beilenson said. Three of the five have family members who have the virus, he said. "Almost assuredly, it is not from school," he said.

The schools, Maree G. Farring and General Wolfe elementaries, are in or near the two ZIP codes, 21230 and 21224, that account for 30 to 40 percent of the hepatitis A cases in the city, Beilenson said.

Letters were sent to parents last week to inform them about the virus, he said. The schools are not recommending that the pupils in those schools receive immune globulin shots, he said.

"For the kids in those schools, there's no need to do anything other than the staff and students having good hygiene," he said.

He said the five recent hepatitis cases by no means constitute an epidemic, as the city usually has about 100 cases a year.

"The key is stopping the spread," he said. "The way you do that is good hygiene."

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