Hepatitis A cases reported in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Hepatitis A cases reported in Basalt

John Colson

Five students at Basalt Middle School have contracted hepatitis A, a flu-like disease that is rarely fatal but can be severely uncomfortable, health officials confirmed Tuesday.A state health official said the matter is being closely monitored, and that it is not an epidemic at this point. Nor is there any apparent likelihood that it will spread to other communities in the valley.Officials are not sure how the disease is being spread, but believe the initial infection about a month ago, of three children in one family, may have come from a relative who had been traveling in Mexico.Officials had hoped the outbreak had been contained to that family circle. But the disease resurfaced last week, when two other Basalt Middle School students developed symptoms.Pam Shilliam of the Colorado Department of Health cautioned parents to be on the lookout for symptoms and to call a doctor or the Eagle County Health Department immediately if they appear.Shilliam said the symptoms include:-Gastrointestinal illness that lasts “several days or a week” or more, as opposed to stomach flu lasting only a day;-A loss of appetite and nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain;-A low-grade fever, urine that appears “tea colored” or brownish, and jaundice or a yellowing of the skin and eyes.Hepatitis A is the least severe of the three kinds of hepatitis known to infect humans. It has a two- to three-week incubation period between the time that infection occurs and the time that symptoms appear.It is usually transmitted by ingestion of contaminated food or water.Officials are urging parents to impress upon their children the importance of washing their hands after using the toilet, since the disease is also carried in fecal matter and could be spread through normal contact with another.Hepatitis A also has been spread by infected food service workers, and the father of one of the infected Basalt boys said he had heard there was “some suspicion about maybe a food handler at the school,” since all the cases have been linked to Basalt Middle School.But the parent, Joe Bauer, added that his son does not normally eat the school lunches.”We always pack a lunch for Trent,” Bauer said. “He doesn’t eat the food at school.”And Basalt Middle School Principal Gary Halstead said all food service employees at the school, as well as the custodial staff, have been “checked and cleared” for possible infection.Shilliam, an epidemiologist in Denver, said her office has been tracking the disease since it was reported back in January, when it infected three children in one family.Shilliam said officials concluded those children had come in contact with a relative who had been traveling in Mexico, and that the relative probably brought hepatitis A back with him.When the second generation of infections showed up recently, Shilliam said, health officials assumed the infected kids had somehow come in contact with other children and spread the disease.But, according to Bauer, his son does not hang around with the students who were initially infected, and Halstead said the two most recently infected are at a different grade level than the three originally infected.And, Halstead said, the three kids initially infected had already recovered and returned to school by the time the second pair of cases showed up. He said the school issued a letter to parents in early February, assuring them that the disease is rarely fatal and that “casual school exposure is not considered high risk for the spread of the disease.”When asked how the second group of kids may have contracted the disease, Halstead said, “I don’t have an answer for that.”Still, Bauer said of school officials, “I thought they did a great job,” because it was Halstead who first noticed that Bauer’s son had developed symptoms of hepatitis A.Bauer said his son had been complaining of hepatitis-like symptoms for a week, but that Bauer had thought it was the flu.”It might have gone on for days, and we might not have picked up on it,” if the principal had not noticed Trent’s eyes had developed a yellowish tint, Bauer said.Now, he added, Trent is home until the symptoms disappear, and another week after that.Shilliam said that, in almost all cases, the body’s immune defenses overcome the virus, although it can keep someone home from work or school for a couple of weeks.She also said a vaccine is available that is “very effective” in blocking the disease, but added that the health department is not recommending an emergency, “en masse” vaccination program for the midvalley area.She said parents should have their children vaccinated against the disease as part of the normal package of vaccinations dispensed in the United States.Return to The Aspen Times or AspenAlive.com Comments about this article? Send them to mail@aspentimes.comLooking for a particular article? Search our Daily ArchivesPosted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

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