(Salt Lake City, UT) – Utah public health officials are investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a national outbreak involving several other states. Dr. Angela Dunn, deputy state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) says, “Between May 1 and November 27, 2017, we have identified 87 outbreak-associated cases of hepatitis A.” And while previous outbreaks noted hospitalization rates of less than 40%, the hospitalization rate in Utah for this outbreak is approximately 60%. Dunn adds, “The high rate of hospitalization may be due to the cases having other underlying illnesses. The majority of Utah’s outbreak-associated cases have occurred in people who live along the Wasatch Front and use illicit drugs and/or are experiencing homelessness.”
Even though the outbreak has been fairly limited to a specific population, there’s no guarantee it won’t spread. Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD) executive director, Gary Edwards says, “The key to keeping this outbreak from spreading to the general public is in making sure that everyone practices proper hygiene and handwashing.” Toward that end, a team from the UDOH and the SLCoHD developed a new campaign to help educate the public and limit the spread of disease. The campaign includes a web site (health.utah.gov/hepatitisa), online videos, and social media.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A signs and symptoms usually appear two to six weeks after exposure and may include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
- Clay-colored stools
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
Symptoms can range from a mild illness to a severe illness lasting several months. People usually get hepatitis A by having close contact with someone who is infected, from food or drinks prepared by someone who is infected, or by eating shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water. Sexual contact with someone who is infected with hepatitis A can also pose a risk for infection.
A vaccine to prevent against hepatitis A infection has been part of routine childhood immunizations since 2005. Dr. Dagmar Vitek, Salt Lake County Health Department medical director explains, “The vaccine is typically given in two or three doses, depending on the formulation and is nearly 100% effective at preventing illness. To reduce your risk of catching or spreading the hepatitis A virus, always wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, before preparing or eating food, and after coming in contact with an infected person’s stools.” The hepatitis A vaccine is available through health care providers, local health department clinics, and pharmacies.
The vaccine is safe and effective for anyone who wants to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. Contact your health care provider to determine whether you might be at risk for contracting hepatitis A.
More information about the outbreak is available at health.utah.gov/hepatitisA. Persons with questions about hepatitis A should contact their health care provider or local health department.
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