According to press reports, recent numbers from the Washington Department of Health show the state’s hepatitis A outbreak continues to grow. The statewide total, as of Thursday, showed 72 confirmed cases since January 1. Of those cases, almost three dozen have led to hospitalization. On Monday, King County Public Health confirmed six new cases since an outbreak was declared in late July, bringing the county’s total to 24 for the year.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus. Symptoms can range from none at all to liver failure and even death. Doctors say it most often gets into the body after someone touches an infected surface or does not wash their hands after using the bathroom. Washington’s cases align with a national trend tracked by the CDC.

Back in July, health officials announced cases in four counties: King, Snohomish, Spokane and Pend Oreille. At last update, Spokane County had 33 confirmed cases for the year.

Public Health says many cases are found among people experiencing homelessness, without steady access to sanitation or hygienic facilities, and among frequent drug users. The county has allotted close to $400,000 to provide hepatitis A vaccines to those living on the street, with clinics scheduled for most days until December.

“Hepatitis A can be serious and is very contagious from person to son,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for King County Public Health.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and prevent the spread of hepatitis A to others.”

Public Health says other major cities have spent millions responding to larger outbreaks and the goal here is to be proactive.