Hepatitis A spreads in Clark County: Inmates infected, school closes

Hepatitis A spreads in Clark County: Inmates infected, school closes
Henryville schools were closed on Friday.
A swab test for hepatitis A in Clark County. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
A swab test for hepatitis A in Clark County. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

CLARK COUNTY, IN (WAVE) –  Students at Henryville Elementary and High Schools were at home on Friday, their schools closed. Sick inmates inside the Clark County Jail were segregated to prevent spread of the disease.

The county has had 25 confirmed cases of hepatitis A since December, according to the Clark County Health Department.

Inmates and employees at the Clark County Jail were offered the hepatitis A vaccine to keep it from spreading. Lieutenant Colonel Scottie Maples said most inmates have opted to take it, and they're continuing to offer the vaccine while it's still an issue.

But the incubation period for the virus can take 14 to 28 days, so often people spread it before realizing they have it, according to health officials.

"We feel like we've done everything in our power to try to control this," Maples said.

Since December, there have been 11 confirmed cases of hepatitis A inside the Clark County Jail. Right now, three inmates have the virus.

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"If you're positive, you go to segregation, because we don't want that to spread throughout the jail," Maples said. "So that's a challenge sometimes, with limited segregation cells inside the jail."

The jail has 14 segregation cells and 563 inmates overall. Maples said that can create a problem with isolation, as some inmates need to be separated from the general population, leaving them with limited options.

It's often difficult to know if the inmates inside the jail come to their facility with Hep A, or if they contracted it from a different jail before being transported, or on the street before they're picked up.

Often, when the symptoms show up, the virus has already spread but they monitor all inmates closely to keep the spread limited.

"We check out inmates. Every single inmate, every single day to see if they're exhibiting symptoms," Maples said.

They've quadrupled cleaning supplies for the jail.

Down the road in Henryville, the elementary and high schools are in for a deep clean, too.

"Bleach and more bleach. They were very specific about that," said West Clark Schools Superintendent John Reed. The campus is closed Friday and no one is allowed inside except the 20-person cleaning crew.

Reed said the cleaners are using a bleach solution approved by the health department and the staff inside have suits and masks to protect them as they clean the school from top to bottom.

The district was notified Thursday afternoon of two cases of hepatitis A inside the elementary school. Parents and students were notified of the cases by Thursday evening. Reed said the two people infected were not students or faculty, describing them as part-time employees that aren't in regular contact with kids.

"Parents, rightfully, are very concerned about their children," Reed said.

The majority of students are already vaccinated for hepatitis A, Reed said. Only about 60 students are unvaccinated.

Reed and Henryville Elementary School Principal Glenn Riggs spoke with state health officials about the outbreak on a conference call Friday morning.

They said with students gone, a deep clean of the school should take away any risk of mass infection.

Henryville schools will be back in session in Henryville on Monday, Riggs said. But they are asking parents to keep a close eye on students over the next month. Flu-like symptoms could be hepatitis A.

"Safety of the children, and what are the things we need to do to make sure the school is where it needs to be before we let anybody back in," Reed said.

Hepatitis A symptoms are often similar to those for the flu: Vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. If you're feeling sick, don't tough it out and go to work or school, health officials said.

Vigorous hand washing and careful food handling can also help prevent the virus from spreading.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A typically last four to six weeks, but can last as long as six months, according to Dr. Eric Yazel with the Clark County Health Department.

The best treatment is future prevention of hepatitis A, Yazel said, so they're encouraging people to get the vaccine if you haven't.

Along with vaccinating inmates at the Clark County Jail, Yazel said the health department also provided hep A vaccinations to those staying at Haven House.

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