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First hepatitis A death reported since Colorado outbreak began last year

Posted at 11:23 AM, Sep 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-12 13:23:56-04

DENVER – A Denver resident has died of hepatitis A, the first reported death since an outbreak of the contagious virus began in the state last year, health officials announced on Thursday.

The victim had "risk factors consistent" with other patients in the outbreak, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Officials have said that risk factors include less access to preventative health care, poor nutrition and crowded living conditions, including homelessness.

More information about the patient who died was not released Thursday.

Since October 2018, 163 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Colorado, with more than 70% of the cases affecting men, according to state data. Of the 163 cases, 104 have been in El Paso County and 35 in Denver. The state has reported 120 hospitalizations as a result of the virus.

“Deaths from hepatitis A are rare, but they can occur, especially when people who have other medical conditions get the disease,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state communicable disease epidemiologist, said in the news release. “This unfortunate death reminds us that the critical work our local public health agencies have been doing to vaccinate at-risk populations must continue. This outbreak is not over.”

Also on Thursday, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office announced that a jail inmate had been diagnosed with the virus and taken to a hospital.

Hepatitis A, which is a disease of the liver, is preventable via vaccine. It spreads through fecal-oral contamination, sharing drugs and equipment, or intimate contact with a sick individual.

Symptoms include:

  • Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain

Denver Health said washing your hands with soap and water after using the restroom and before handling food can reduce the risk of transmission.

Children generally have a low risk of hepatitis A because the vaccine has been part of the standard childhood immunizations for more than 10 years. Adults who are unvaccinated are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about getting the vaccine.

To find a free vaccination clinic, click here or call the Denver Public Health Immunization Clinic at 303-602-3520.