Hepatitis A outbreak in Southern Nevada worsens, Health District expects numbers to keep rising

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ST. GEORGE — The number of hepatitis A cases related to an outbreak in Clark County has increased this year, and Southern Nevada Health District officials expect the number of cases to continue to rise. 

Since it began in November 2018, the health district has recorded a total of 86 outbreak-associated hepatitis A cases, 81 of which were recorded in 2019, Public Information Manager Jennifer Sizemore said. 

“We’ve been seeing an increase in cases. And this isn’t something that you expect to end overnight, so we’re expecting that this is something we’ll be addressing for a while,” she said. 

The number of cases in previous years has been significantly lower. There was a total of 39 cases in 2018 and 13 in 2017. 

Southern Utah has not seen an increase in hepatitis A cases, with only two reported this year. 

The Southern Nevada Health District has been working to reduce the number of cases by providing vaccines to at-risk populations. Vaccination is the best defense against the virus, which is fairly serious and often results in hospitalization.

Since the health district announced the outbreak in June, they have administered 1,093 hepatitis A vaccinations to adults, which is well over half of the total number of vaccinations given by all providers in Clark County, Health District investigator Vit Kraushaar said. 

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The agency has partnered with local organizations to administer vaccinations to those in the at-risk population, which includes people experiencing homelessness and those who use drugs.

“We’ve been partnering with Southern Nevada and some other organizations to actually go into encampments and tunnels and vaccinate that population because that’s a population that doesn’t always go to the hospital, even when they’re sick or need vaccinations,” Kraushaar said. 

Of the reported cases associated with the outbreak, over 92% were among people who use drugs, and more than 80% were among those experiencing homelessness. 

Despite their efforts, the district has continued to see an increase in hepatitis A. Based on advisement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they expect the outbreak to last at least a year with the number of cases reaching into the hundreds. 

“Unfortunately, we do expect the number of cases to keep increasing over the coming weeks if not months,” Kraushaar said. “And we expect that this will take a lot of time and a lot of money to combat.” 

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

Symptoms 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 having 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. Those who are homeless or use drugs are typically more at risk due to unsanitary living conditions. 

Other people at risk for the disease include men who have sex with men, people with chronic liver disease, people who have an occupational risk of infection, people who travel to countries where hepatitis A is common, those who come into direct contact with someone with the virus, people with blood clotting disorders and those who are or have recently been incarcerated. 

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. 

The Heath District has also been working with food managers by discussing proper handwashing among employees and recommending that those who are sick stay home from work.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A, however, is by receiving the vaccine. Information about the hours and locations of immunization clinics in both Southwest Utah and Southern Nevada can be found online. 

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

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