ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — On Tuesday morning, Dr. Cynthia Morrow — the director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD) — held a briefing to discuss a hepatitis A outbreak in the region, as well as ways that community members can protect themselves from the virus.

According to Morrow, there have been 77 confirmed cases of hepatitis A — including 56 hospitalizations — within the health districts since the beginning of January. Many of those infections were reported in the Star City area.

She and other health officials urge people in the community to talk to their doctors about getting vaccinated for the disease, especially individuals who are homeless, those who use injectable drugs, and men who have sex with other men because they are the most susceptible to hepatitis A.

“Over 85% of the individuals that we see are individuals who have substance use disorder, including people who use injection drugs,” Morrow said during her virtual update on Tuesday, July 19.

She also says that a total of four restaurant workers in the RCAHD have been infected with hepatitis A over the last year, including an employee at Billy’s Restaurant in Roanoke, whose diagnosis was reported last week.

Watch Morrow’s full public health briefing from Tuesday below:

Morrow tells WFXR News that the health districts have been hosting vaccination events and working with community-based organizations in order to keep those virus numbers from growing.

“Today, we’re responding to a possible, a very low-risk exposure to hepatitis A by a food worker at a restaurant,” said Nurse Manager MaryKate Bowser during Tuesday’s free hepatitis A vaccination clinic outside the Roanoke City Health Department.

Bowser says the best thing you can do is get vaccinated prior to exposure, instead of waiting.

“Vomiting, diarrhea, general illness. If you have those symptoms, the best thing to do is go to your health care provider and get tested,” Bowser said. “If you feel like you may have been exposed and you’re not yet symptomatic, the best thing to do is to go get vaccinated for hepatitis A.”

According to Morrow, other symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Gastrointestinal issues

Since the outbreak began, the health districts have reportedly administered more than 1,000 hepatitis A vaccine doses to the most vulnerable community members, as well as others.

To schedule a hepatitis A vaccination appointment within the Roanoke Valley or the Alleghany Highlands, follow this link to find the contact information for your local health department.