On August 26, we reported that West Virginia’s hepatitis A outbreak had topped 1,000 cases. Fast forward one month and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health now reports 1,318 outbreak cases.
In the current outbreak, more than half the cases required hospitalization and two deaths have been reported. About six out of 10 people infected were co-infected with hepatitis C and nearly eight out of 10 reported illicit drug use.
Kanawha and Cabell counties account for two-thirds of the outbreak cases. Thirty-two of the states 55 counties have reported at least one case.
Viral sequencing of samples collected in West Virginia has linked the outbreak to cases from Kentucky and California.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death.
Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. Hepatitis A can also spread from close personal contact with an infected person such as through sexual contact or caring for someone who is ill.
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk such as:
• Persons who use injection and non-injection drug users
• Homeless persons
• Persons who had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A
• Men who have sexual encounters with other men
• People who have come into close person-to-person contact with an infected person
• People with ongoing, close contact with people who are homeless or people who use injection and non-injection drugs
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is with the hepatitis A vaccine. Practicing good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food – plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.