UPDATE: The number of cases of Hepatitis A in Hamilton County continues to grow. Fifteen cases have been reported to the health department since May. The health department said typically only one case is reported per year.

Members of the Medical Reserve Corps, a national network of volunteers, is now helping the local health department respond to what is being called a public health emergency.

Joye Wessells has been volunteering with the Medical Reserve Corps over the last eight years. She's a retired nurse, and knows how important good hygiene is for the community.

“I think it is important that we keep our community safe and healthy," Wessells said. "It was one way that I could help.”

The national organization was asked to help relieve the staff at the Hamilton County Health Department.

“There is a need. We are taking the place of some, we are basically saving space for our staff members so they can stay here and work while our volunteers are out assisting,” MRC coordinator Maegan Kerr said.

Volunteers are out in the community educating people about Hepatitis A and offering free vaccinations.

“Gosh, I know we gave at least 25 or more injections to people who might not have gotten them,” Wessells explained.

Since the outbreak began in May, the health department has given out more than 1,500 vaccines to prevent it from spreading. The majority are going to high-risk individuals, like the homeless.

“I think they probably have heard about it, but most of them seem anxious to protect themselves,” Wessells added.

Pop-up clinics will continue to circulate in the community to educate the public.

“We want to promote public health and safety. Our organization is here to help with any public health emergencies. This Hepatitis A outbreak is an emergency we are working,” Kerr said.

High-risk groups can receive a free Hepatitis A vaccine at the local health department. Primary care doctors can also provide one.

The Medical Reserve Corps is looking for volunteers. If you would like to volunteer, you can learn more on the Tennessee Department of Health's website.

PREVIOUS STORY: Chattanooga restaurants are taking extra precautions in light of what health officials are calling a Hepatitis A outbreak.

Seven cases of the virus have been reported in our area.

Restaurant owners are taking this seriously. They're making sure employees are washing their hands and that conditions are above and beyond health department standards.

"Wash your hands. Wash, wash, wash your hands," Joan Marie Warsham, the owner of Bluegrass Grill said.

Warsham is also a dialysis nurse. She knows how important it is to prevent viruses like Hepatitis A from spreading.

"I'm very fortunate because I can give nursing horror stories that are anecdotal evidence that make you want to wash your hands,” Warsham said.

The health department has seen seven cases of Hepatitis A in the Chattanooga area since early May. The department usually sees one case per year.

The liver disease is curable with a vaccine, but Dr. Valerie Boaz said it's also about prevention.

"I think it's important for the community to know what is happening. I think it's important for the community to know what the public health department, what we are doing in response to this,” Dr. Boaz with the health department said.

In response, the department has given 345 vaccinations. That’s above and beyond what they normally give.

"We anticipate that we may get more cases, but we are working aggressively to get the word out and let people know,” Dr. Boaz said.

The virus can spread when people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom or from contaminated food or water. That's why health officials have made restaurants aware.

Warsham said it's an important conversation she's had with her staff.

"I think it's people being aware, education, which is what public health is,” Warsham said.

The health department is giving vaccines on a walk-in basis at five clinics.

The vaccines are free to some high risk groups.

If you choose to get the vaccine elsewhere, it could be covered under your insurance policy. You should check with your provider.

UPDATE: A higher than normal number of cases of Hepatitis A Virus has been seen by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

Typically, about one case a year is reported to the Department, yet since early May 2018, seven cases have been reported according to a news release.

With the current Hepatitis A outbreak in Middle Tennessee, and other similar outbreaks in other states, the Health Department wants residents to be aware of the possible threat.

The Health Department continues to investigate current cases, monitor for new cases, educate the community on how the disease is spread and how it can be prevented, and conduct a vaccination program for high-risk individuals.

“Hepatitis A is a contagious, vaccine-preventable liver infection,” says Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Valerie Boaz, “Hepatitis A usually spreads by the fecal-oral route through ingestion of contaminated food or drinks, close person-to-person contact with an infected person, and sexual contact with an infected person.”

The best way to prevent contracting or spreading the disease is to get the Hepatitis A vaccine along with good hand hygiene, such as washing hands with soap and warm water after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food. Also, avoid using recreational drugs.

Although anyone can get the disease, people most at risk for Hepatitis A infection in this multi-state outbreak include those experiencing homelessness, people who use drugs recreationally, and men who have sex with men. Anyone with these risk factors is eligible to receive free Hepatitis A vaccine at any of our Health Department locations, Monday-Friday, 8AM-4PM. No appointment is necessary.

Clinic Locations:

  • Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, 921 East 3rd Street, Chattanooga TN, 37403,
  • Birchwood Health Center, 5625 Hwy 60, Birchwood TN, 37308, 423-961-0446
  • Homeless Health Care Center, 730 East 11th St, Chattanooga TN 37403, 423- 265-5708
  • Ooltewah Health Center, 5520 High St, Ooltewah TN, 37363, 423-238-4269
  • Sequoyah Health Center, 9527 West Ridge Trail Rd, Soddy Daisy TN, 37379, 423-842-3031