County will consider hepatitis vaccinations

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Midway through 2004, doctors had diagnosed 20 hepatitis cases in Colorado.

Ten of those cases were in Moffat County.

Susan Bowler, public health nurse manager at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, would not provide details about how those people became infected with hepatitis, a virus that causes swelling of the liver. She was concerned that in a small town people could figure out who had been infected if she said anything.

But since then, no new cases of hepatitis have been diagnosed here, Bowler said. Thirty-one new cases had been diagnosed throughout Colorado as of Wednesday.

But the VNA is still serious about the virus, Bowler said.

The people all had hepatitis A, which makes those who contract it vomit and suffer diarrhea. But hepatitis A is not a chronic condition, as opposed to hepatitis B and C, which often don't cause immediate symptoms of infection but persist as chronic conditions that can ultimately cause liver failure.

The Moffat County commissioners are considering paying for hepatitis A and B vaccines for county employees who risk exposure to the virus. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Sunset Meadows Housing Director Keith Antonson approached the commissioners about paying for vaccinations for some Sunset Meadows staff members during a meeting Tuesday.

Some employees had expressed concern to Antonson about contracting the virus while performing their jobs.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through bodily fluids. Hepatitis A is transmitted by a fecal-oral route, and in this way food can be contaminated. Antonson voiced concern that a food handler who was unwittingly infected could infect Sunset Meadows' elderly population.

The vaccinations are administered by the VNA in a three-shot series that costs $240. Eight Sunset Meadows employees have signed up for the vaccinations.

Despite the cost, Antonson said the vaccinations were a good move because they would be much cheaper than a worker's compensation claim if an employee became infected on the job.

Bowler also encourages people to get the vaccination. When compared to the aspect of dying of liver failure at 50 years old, the vaccination seems worth the cost.

The Moffat County Sheriff's Office and the county landfill offer shots to their employees.

Sgt. Ken Uecker said he's seen an increase in hepatitis cases during the past year. He attributed the increase to drug use. Hepatitis B can be transmitted by sharing needles, and hepatitis C can be transmitted by sharing street drugs and needles.

Commissioner Darryl Steele suggested that the commissioners determine which employees are at risk for hepatitis and offer them vaccinations next year.

Commissioner Les Hampton asked Moffat County Human Resources to find a list of at-risk professions the county could use to identify employees who are at risk for hepatitis.

The VNA offers vaccinations for children as young as 2. Children infected with hepatitis often fail to exhibit symptoms.

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