Yesterday the Washington State Department of Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in multiple counties in people who are living homeless or who use drugs. The outbreak includes 13 confirmed cases: nine in Spokane County, two in King County, one in Snohomish County and one in Pend Oreille County. The statewide case count will be updated regularly on the department’s website.
Many other states are experiencing hepatitis A outbreaks. While anyone who is not vaccinated can get hepatitis A, people who are living homeless or who use drugs are at higher risk, particularly if they don’t have access to sanitation, restroom facilities and handwashing stations.
Hepatitis A is a very contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild infection with no symptoms lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months that can result in liver failure and death. You can learn more about hepatitis A symptoms and prevention on the department’s website.
Hepatitis A is usually spread person-to-person when someone unknowingly ingests the virus by touching objects or ingesting food or drinks contaminated with undetectable amounts of stool from someone who has the virus.
The most effective way to prevent hepatitis A is vaccination. Vaccination is recommended for all children starting at 1 year of age, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. While it is still early in the outbreak investigation, public health measures can reduce the potential for further community transmission. The department is working closely with local health officials on prevention and response efforts, including public education, vaccinations, partnerships with health care and service providers and interventions for sanitation.