(Salt Lake City, UT) – Utah public health officials say a hepatitis A outbreak that spanned nearly two years, infected 281 people, and killed three has ended. Bree Barbeau, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), says no new cases have been reported in the past 100 days, which is two incubation cycles for hepatitis A. The outbreak began on May 8, 2017 and the last case was reported on October 26, 2018. “The majority of Utah’s outbreak-associated cases occurred in people who live along the Wasatch Front and reported illicit substance use and/or were experiencing homelessness,” said Barbeau.
Public health officials expect to receive additional reports of outbreak-associated hepatitis A cases, however, their focus will be on monitoring cases and prevention activities, such as vaccinating the high-risk populations. The UDOH would like to acknowledge the monumental efforts of private and community partners, and federal, state, and local government partners, especially local public health departments, to control this large hepatitis A outbreak. Partners are encouraged to continue providing hepatitis A vaccination for people experiencing homelessness, along with other high-risk groups, including people using illicit substances and men who have sex with men.
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 immunization recommendations in Utah since 2002. 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 fecal material.” The hepatitis A vaccine is available through health care providers, local public 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 public health department.