Several states in the US are experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak with the number of cases increasing by the week. States that are affected include Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and California.
The state of Michigan has been hit the hardest with a current death toll of 22 thus far. This outbreak began in August 2016 and the numbers are continuing to rise. Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said “we currently have 677 cases in Michigan and continue to see approximately 15-30 cases matching into the cluster evert week.” As for the spread, person-to-person is believed to be the primary route of infection.
In California, the city of San Diego has been the most affected with 21 deaths out of 686 reported cases and the outbreak can be traced to transient camps and illicit drug users.
Now an outbreak coming from a 7-Eleven convenience store in Salt Lake County, Utah this past weekend is being traced to the hepatitis outbreak in San Diego.
“We have 97 outbreak-related cases in our county,” Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said, adding that those cases were tied to a worker at a 7-Eleven who tested positive for the same strain of the virus as that in San Diego. “We are seeing similar hospitalization rates as San Diego, about 60%, but we have fortunately not seen any deaths.”
Those who visited the 7-Eleven and consumed any self-serve beverage, fresh fruit or items from the hot food case, such as pizza, hot dogs or chicken wings, may have been exposed to hepatitis A.
Just south of Salt Lake, workers at two Utah County restaurant also tested positive for the virus in late December. In total, the state of Utah has confirmed 152 total cases as part of this outbreak; no deaths have been reported.
Officials also reported that movement among the homeless population has also spread the virus in Arizona, and Colorado.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. (1)
There are five main hepatitis viruses referred as types A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. (2)
How do people contract hepatitis A?
As mentioned above, hepatitis A spreads when you eat or drink something contaminated with fecal matter. It can be contracted by eating food handles by someone with the virus who doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands, eating raw shellfish from water polluted with sewage, being in close contact with an infected person, and having sex with some who has the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of hepatitis A typically don’t appear until weeks after you’ve contracted the virus and for some, they can contract hepatitis A and not experience any of these symptoms:
- Sudden nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort by your liver
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Intense itching
Note: These symptoms can go away in a few weeks or sometimes, they could result in severe illness that can last several months.
Who has a greater risk?
If you fall under any of the following, you’re at increased risk of contracting hepatitis A:
- Travel or work in areas of the world where hepatitis A is common
- Attend or work in a child care center
- Live with someone who has hepatitis A
- Are a man who has sexual contact with other men
- Have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A
- Are HIV positive
- Have a clotting-factor disorder, such as hemophilia
- Use any type of illegal drug (not just ones that are injected)
Be sure to visit your doctor if you’re showing any signs or symptoms of hepatitis A to prevent your potential illness from escalating into something severe. As a preventive measure, stay away from areas that are at high risk of hepatitis A. If you’re travelling to other parts of the world where hepatitis A is common, be sure to peel and wash all fresh fruits and vegetables yourself, don’t eat raw meat or fish, and drink from bottled water as much as possible.