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Health - Public Health News

Posted on: January 21, 2020

Investigating Confirmed Case of Hepatitis A

Whatcom County Health Department has confirmed a case of hepatitis A in an adult resident of Whatcom County. The individual, who also reported risk factors for hepatitis A, was hospitalized and later released.

The source of the infection is not known, and it is unknown whether the case is linked to the statewide hepatitis A outbreak declared in July 2019. The Washington State outbreak is one of many person-to-person outbreaks of hepatitis A in the U.S.

Since the statewide outbreak was declared, Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD) has been working to provide educational information and sanitation guidelines to providers who serve people who are at higher risk. WCHD has also been providing free hepatitis A vaccinations to at-risk populations.

In response to the confirmed case, WCHD is also conducting investigations to identify people who may have been in contact with the case and expanding immunization opportunities through partnerships with providers who serve high-risk groups.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a very contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can be a mild or severe illness, sometimes causing liver failure and death.

Hepatitis A is spread by touching food, beverages, or objects that become contaminated when touched by unwashed hands that carry the virus. It is also spread through close, personal contact with people who are infected, such as when caring for someone infected or using drugs with an infected person.

Hepatitis A virus is spread more easily where sanitary conditions are poor. People experiencing unstable housing or homelessness are considered to be at increased risk due to a lack of sanitation facilities.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

Anyone who shows symptoms of hepatitis A should seek medical care promptly. Symptoms usually begin two to seven weeks after infection and include:

  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Dark urine and/or pale stools.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fever.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Vomiting.
  • Joint pain.
  • Stomach (abdominal) pain.

How can you prevent hepatitis A?

The best method of prevention is getting vaccinated with two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccine is safe and nearly 100% effective with two doses given six months apart. Many younger people are already protected against hepatitis A because the vaccine is recommended for all children starting a one year of age, for travelers to certain countries, and for people who are at high risk. Check your immunization records online through MyIR.

To get vaccinated against hepatitis A, talk to your health care provider, or use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate a pharmacy or clinic near you that offers the vaccine. 

Frequent handwashing can also help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Wash hands well with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing or eating food.

Who is at risk for hepatitis A?

Anyone can get hepatitis A, but some groups of people are at higher risk and should consider getting vaccinated:

  • People experiencing unstable housing or homelessness, especially those living unsheltered without good access to sanitation and handwashing facilities.
  • People who are living with or caring for a person who already has hepatitis A.
  • People who use illicit drugs (does not have to be injection drugs).
  • People who have sex with someone with hepatitis A.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • International travelers.
  • People with chronic liver disease.
  • People with clotting disorders (like hemophilia).

People in high-risk groups should avoid sharing food, drinks, drug paraphernalia, and other personal items to help prevent the spread of the disease.

More information:

Hepatitis A FAQs
Washington State Hepatitis A Outbreak

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