Two school age children in Port Alberni have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, a Vancouver Island Health Authority official said.
VIHA communications officer Shannon Marshall confirmed the development.
The children were diagnosed in the last week and are undergoing treatment, Central Island medical health officer Paul Hasselback said.
“I can confirm that we have seen hepatitis A throughout the Island and some of them are in Port Alberni,” he said.
The number of hepatitis A cases on Vancouver Island is rising, Hasselback said.
Eighty cases of hep A have been diagnosed on the Island since October 2010.
“I don’t have an exact number of people who are diagnosed with it in Alberni,” Hasselback said. “But this is an Island-wide issue and not one specific to Port Alberni.”
According to VIHA’s website, hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver. The virus is found in human feces of infected people, and is spread through close personal contact, or contaminated food that has been handled by an infected person.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. “It very uncommonly results in death or liver failure.”
The Port Alberni Health Unit and Nuu-cha-nulth health officials are working in tandem to corral the disease, Hasselback said.
Aboriginal communities on the Island were already undergoing hep A vaccinations when the recent diagnoses were made.
Nuu-cha-nulth health officials weren’t available for comment.
Extensive contact tracing is being undertaken in an effort to determine where the individuals were and to ensure the health and safety of their close contacts, Hasselback said.
VIHA’s experience with the TB outbreak in Alberni two years ago has proved invaluable in combating the recent incidents.
“The TB outbreak helped build relationships in the Port Alberni area, which make it easier to respond to cases of communicable diseases that cross jurisdictions and traditional places of treatment,” Hasselback said.
Health officials do not suspect that contaminated food from local restaurants is the source.
Hasselback said there was a situation elsewhere on the Island where a food handler in a public establishment was diagnosed with hep A, but “that is not the case in Port Alberni.”
The progression of the disease makes it challenging to get a handle on. “A good portion of people — like children and teens — don’t initially get sick,” Hasselback said.
“The time from exposure to developing the illness is 15 to 45 days.”