“A case of hepatitis A has been diagnosed in a close contact of this day care center,” parents were notified upon picking up their children at the child care center at Lester Memorial United Methodist Church on Oct. 22.
The notification recommended that children and staff of the center identified by the Department of Public Health be immunized to prevent further spread of the virus. It instructed parents to bring a note from their doctor stating that the vaccine had been given.
The notification was provided in the form of a brief letter on the letterhead of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), signed by Kibbra Cunningham, surveillance nurse coordinator for public health area 5, which includes Blount County. The letter contained an attachment “Hepatitis A: Information for Day Care Centers.”
The day care center includes children from infants to age 5. The kindergarten or pre-school program includes children from age 3-5. The facility also operates an after-school program for children of working parents, covering the hours from the end of the school day to 5:30 p.m.
Cathy Burtram, head of the Blount County Health Department clinical service unit, said she was told not to comment on the matter, and later informed the paper that Cunningham had also been instructed not to respond to media inquiries.
Day care center director Marleen Lowry declined to answer questions about the reported infection. “I have no comment,” she said when contacted by The Blount Countian.
Mary G. McIntyre, of the The Alabama Department of Public Health in Montgomery, issued the following statement. She is acting state epidemiologist and assistant health officer – disease control and prevention in Montgomery. Health department statement
“The Alabama Department of Public Health was notified on the afternoon of Oct. 22 of a possible case of hepatitis A in a child admitted to Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Based on information obtained from the hospital, parents, (and the) day care center the child attends – and the possible diagnosis of acute hepatitis A in the child – an outbreak investigation was initiated.
“The investigation included a review of all immunization records of children in attendance at the day care, and interviews of parents and day care workers, in addition to a review of medical records of the suspect case. Despite the potential of a false positive hepatitis A, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other specialists, the decision was made to offer non-immunized and under-immunized children and adults hepatitis A vaccination and immunoglobulin prophylaxis as indicated.
“The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for all children age 12 months and older, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. The hepatitis A vaccine is given as two shots six months apart.
“ADPH staff were at the day care center on Oct. 24 and 25 to review records, answer parent and staff questions, and provide immunization free of charge. Information was also provided on hepatitis A and persons were allowed to go to their own physicians if that option was chosen.
“ADPH does not believe that there is an ongoing risk at this time, but has provided information on signs and symptoms out of an abundance of precaution. Please feel free to call ADPH at 1-800-338-8374 if there are additional questions.” (Boldface supplied by The Blount Countian.)
Workers at the Alabama Department of Public Health area 5 office in Gadsden, including administrative head Mark Johnson and emergency preparedness coordinator Robbie Stubbs, were helpful and professional in responding to the newspaper’s concerns on the matter.
Hepatitis A is a treatable, acute infectious disease of the liver, not normally life-threatening in children, but occasionally severe in adults.