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  • Health Care and Homeless Services Providers Teaming Up to Prevent the Spread of Hepatitis A

    Dec 14, 2018 | Read More News
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    In response an increase in hepatitis A cases in Pima County, local health agencies are working together to increase vaccination against hepatitis A and educating those with a higher risk of getting the virus. So far in 2018, there have been 22 confirmed hepatitis A cases in Pima County. This number represents a sharp increase compared to just 5 cases in 2017 and 12 cases in 2016.

    “In other parts of the U.S., hepatitis A outbreaks are becoming more common and can be very difficult to stop once they begin,” said Dr. Carlos Perez-Velez, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Pima County Health Department. “That is why we are working hard to get ahead of this sudden increase in cases. By working closely with our partners, we can raise awareness about what is going on and take steps to increase vaccination and education among the people most at risk in our community.”

    Health Department disease investigators have linked the spike in cases to people experiencing homelessness and people who use illicit drugs – both injected and non-injected. Living in unsanitary and often close quarters, sharing food and other items, inconsistent access to bathroom and handwashing facilities, and not having routine access to health-care, can all increase the risk of spreading disease amongst these populations.

    Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver. It can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. Severity can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks, to a severe one persisting for several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and even death – especially in persons with a weakened immune system.  It is highly contagious and spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by unperceivable amounts of stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill.

    Symptoms of hepatitis A include yellow skin and eyes, fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine and light-colored stools (poop). Symptoms develop between two to six weeks after an exposure, and people can spread the virus to others before symptoms appear.

    In response to this increase in cases, the Health Department is asking healthcare providers, and those who work with people in these groups, to provide vaccination or information on where to get vaccinated to their patients and clients. Among the cases being investigated, officials recommend vaccination for:
    • People who use injection and non-injection street drugs.
    • Men who have sex with men.
    • People who have been recently incarcerated.
    • People traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common.
    • People who live with or have sex with someone who has hepatitis A.
    “Making vaccination available to people who are most at risk for getting and spreading hepatitis A is the most important thing we can do to stop this rise in cases,” said Dr. Perez-Velez. 

    Vaccination is also recommended for:
    • People with chronic (lifelong) liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, who have a higher risk of poor outcomes if infected.
    • Children, who are routinely vaccinated between 12 and 23 months of age. Older children and adolescents can get the vaccine after 23 months.
    • People being treated with clotting-factor concentrates.
    • Adults who have not been vaccinated previously and want to be protected against hepatitis A.
    Hepatitis A vaccination is readily available from your doctor’s office, health clinic, and many retail pharmacies. The vaccine is also available through Health Department Public Health Clinics.

    Good hygiene is also important in preventing the spread of hepatitis A to others. In addition to getting vaccinated, people should:
    • Wash their hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before eating or making food.
    • Avoid having sex with anyone who has hepatitis A.
    • Not share towels, toothbrushes, eating utensils, food, drinks, smokes or drug “works” with others.
    For general questions about hepatitis A and where to find hepatitis A vaccination in Pima County, call (520) 724-7797 or visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/