Health department confirms hepatitis A outbreak in Clark County

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ST. GEORGE — The Southern Nevada Health District has confirmed a hepatitis A outbreak in Clark County, with the number of cases increasing substantially in the past two years.

So far this year, Clark County has reported 37 cases of hepatitis A, compared to 17 cases in 2018 and no cases in 2017.

Outbreaks of the virus have been occurring nationwide since 2016. In the past four years, 23 states have reported outbreaks, totaling 20,133 cases in the U.S., causing 11,595 hospitalizations and 191 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah experienced an outbreak in 2017 and 2018, in which 281 cases resulted in three deaths. Utah has since declared an end to the outbreak in the state, seeing only 13 cases in 2019 so far.

Most of the reported cases in Utah were located in the northern part of the state, according to Dave Heaton, public information officer for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

In Southwest Utah, which is comprised of Washington, Iron, Beaver, Garfield and Kane counties, there have been 11 cases since 2015. Two of those cases were reported this year, and none were reported in 2018.

“So far it doesn’t look like an increase in cases here,” Heaton told St. George News.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious vaccine-preventable virus that infects the liver, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach pain, fever, nausea and jaundice, which usually last about three weeks. Most adults with the virus experience symptoms, while most children under the age of 6 do not.

Most people make a complete recovery without lasting liver damage. However, in rare cases, people older than 50 and those who already have liver disease can experience liver failure and even death.

Hepatitis A is spread when a person consumes contaminated fecal matter, usually through food or water. Eating at restaurants or traveling to places where the disease is common can put people at greater risk for consuming contaminated food or water.

If people travel a lot, or eat out a lot, it’s really a good idea to get the vaccine,” Heaton said.

Those experiencing homelessness and those who use drugs are at even greater risk of contracting the disease, usually due to unsanitary living conditions. Of the 37 reported cases in Clark County this year, 86% of the infected people used drugs and 65% of them were homeless.

Since the nationwide outbreaks of the disease, the Southern Nevada Health District has worked with community partners to establish 27 mobile teams to provide immunization clinics for homeless people and other at-risk populations, the department said in a press release.

Other factors that put people at greater risk of contracting hepatitis A include men who have sex with men, people who work in the health care industry, people who have direct contact with others who have the virus, and those with clotting-factor disorders.

Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of the disease. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing hands after using the restroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. However, the best way to prevent hepatitis A is by receiving the vaccine.

“The two-dose vaccine is quite effective and is recommended for everyone, especially those traveling abroad,” Heaton said.

Hepatitis A vaccines are required in children who attend public school, however, there are many adults who are not vaccinated as well as some children whose parents opted out of giving their children the vaccine.

Hepatitis A immunizations can be administered at any of the five clinics in each county served by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, as well as at any public health center or mobile clinics in southern Nevada.

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Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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