Hepatitis A cases have more than doubled in 2017; 1 Coloradan killed, health officials say

Posted at 4:20 PM, Aug 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 18:21:27-04

DENVER – A person in Colorado has died from Hepatitis A and the number of cases has more than doubled this year, prompting state health officials to urge people to get vaccinated against the disease.

A total of 54 cases have been reported as the state enters the last stretch of the third quarter in the year. The number of cases seen during this period is more than double the number typically seen in an entire year, according to Shannon Barbare, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and environment.

“Colorado’s hepatitis A outbreak mirrors similar outbreaks across the country,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “We’re seeing more cases among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with unvaccinated men. We want to get the word out: A safe and effective vaccine will protect you."

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease that can damage the liver, according to health officials.

Infected people have the virus in their stool and often carry it on poorly washed hands and can be spread to others when swallowing invisible amounts of the virus through food, drink, sexual activity or after touching contaminating objects.

But while proper hand washing can prevent the spread of infection, vaccination provides long-term protection against the virus.

The hepatitis A vaccine is readily available at doctor’s offices and many retail outlets. People who need help paying for vaccinations should contact their local public health department.

Health officials say the vaccine is routinely recommended for children, but most adults have not been vaccinated. Two doses of the vaccine, given six months apart are recommended for:

  • All children at age 1, as a routine childhood immunization.
  • Previously unvaccinated children and adolescents ages 2-18, as a catch-up vaccine.
  • Men who have sexual contact with men.
  • People who use injection and non-injection street drugs.
  •  People with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • People who are homeless.
  • People who are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • Family members or caregivers of a recent adoptee from countries where hepatitis A is common.
  • People who are treated with blood clotting-factor concentrates.

Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, severe stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. People can be contagious for two weeks before symptoms appear, and unknowingly spread the virus.

Rarely, the virus can cause liver failure and death.

A blood test is the only way to confirm hepatitis A, so people who think they may have the virus should consult a health care provider.