In November 2017, the Kentucky Department for Public Health identified a statewide outbreak of hepatitis A. For many Louisville residents, however, the information hit home with the spate of news reports about restaurants in the area where employees were found to have the highly contagious disease. Even if you haven’t eaten at one of the reported restaurants, you should still take steps to protect yourself.
While it may not seem like there’s any good news in a hepatitis outbreak, what’s important to remember is that it is easily prevented through a vaccination, and protecting yourself and your family can be as easy as a trip to the pharmacy. Pharmacists are trained and licensed to give several different types of vaccinations, including the hepatitis A vaccine.
A prescription for a healthy community
For Julie Burris, Pharm.D, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Administrative Sciences at Sullivan University’s College of Pharmacy, getting the hepatitis A vaccination is good for you and for the community because it can keep the infection from spreading.
That emphasis on community health is a guiding principle for Sullivan’s College of Pharmacy, where the focus is “to improve the health and wellness of individuals and communities.” Their accelerated three-year Doctor of Pharmacy program allows students to finish their education a year quicker than the majority of other U.S. colleges and schools of pharmacy.
Dr. Burris explains that the first two years are spent primarily in the classroom and the lab, with students learning everything from human physiology to medication safety. The third year, she says, focuses on gaining real-world experience and “on-the-job training” in the community. Students work in hospitals and other healthcare settings to apply what they’ve learned to actual patient cases.
In addition to educating the next generation of pharmacists, Dr. Burris also serves as a clinical pharmacist at The Center for Health & Wellness, a licensed pharmacy within the University. She says that the hepatitis A vaccination is encouraged for all pharmacy students, but it’s just as important for students in other programs, especially those who will come into contact with the public.
“The Center for Health & Wellness helps all students get the vaccinations they need, including hepatitis A, when they can’t get it elsewhere,” she explains. “The hepatitis A vaccine is usually covered by insurance, but in some cases, students may be under-insured or not have insurance at all.”
A dose of reality
Dr. Burris also notes that there are public health resources to help Louisville residents who aren’t University students get the hepatitis A vaccination if they don’t have insurance. The Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, working with other partners, has vaccinated more than 66,000 people in the region, but with more than 1.2 million people living in metro Louisville, there’s still work to be done.
Dr. Burris explains that while you need two doses given at least six months apart for long-lasting protection, you’ll begin to develop antibodies within two weeks after the first shot. She also urges anyone who thinks they may have come into contact with the infection to get immunized.
“Even if you’ve been exposed, you can still benefit from the vaccine if it’s given within the first two weeks after exposure,” she adds. The bottom line is that there is no cure or treatment for hepatitis A, so prevention remains the best way to stay healthy. A few minutes at your local pharmacy can protect you now and for years to come.